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Is a Mandated Minimum Nurse-to-Patient Ratio Coming to Illinois?

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In early 2019, nurses began lobbying for support of a mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratio in Illinois to ensure patient safety.

Patient Safety is at Risk

Many Illinois nursing homes and long-term care facilities face staffing shortages. In February, registered nurses in Illinois started lobbying state lawmakers to establish mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in nursing homes, long-term, acute-care hospitals, and ambulatory surgery centers. National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in U.S. history, fully supports mandated staffing ratios for nurses across the country to improve patient safety.

California is currently the only state with mandated minimum staffing standards for nurses, but Illinois nurses have been fighting for better staffing ratios for over a decade. Under-staffing in U.S. nursing homes has been a problem for many years. According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, approximately 90 percent of nursing homes in America are short-staffed, putting patients at increased risks for life-threatening health conditions and various forms of neglect and abuse.

Institute of Medicine studies show that many qualified nurses refuse to work in nursing homes because of poor working conditions, under-staffing, and low wages. In 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), updated rules and regulations for nursing home staffing levels and reporting procedures for employee hours. New rules mandate that federally-funded nursing homes must have a Registered Nurse (RN) on duty at least seven days per quarter. Facilities that don’t comply receive a one out of five stars rating for patient care.

In under-staffed nursing homes and long-term care facilities, patients and staff members suffer. Patients receive inadequate care and nurses suffer stressful working conditions. Patients in under-staffed facilities often suffer from unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, dehydration, bedsores and infections, and pneumonia. Nurses often become frustrated, agitated, and less attentive to their patients due to work overload. In under-staffed facilities, patients with mobility issues, cognitive problems, and serious health conditions face increased risks of injuries, neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and even premature death.

RNs in Illinois and other states are working closely with NNU to establish mandated direct-care RN-to-patient staffing ratios. There are currently two safe patient ratio bills proposed, one in the House and one in the Senate. In Illinois, Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. The requirement for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios in Illinois facilities will improve patient care and patient safety.

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