Patients in hospitals and other health care facilities have varying needs. Responding to these needs with the necessary level of care requires facilities to not only have the appropriate amount of staff, but also have staff that thoroughly understand the needs of each patient. A new bill before the New Jersey State Senate would establish a minimum number of nurses per patient for different types of health care facilities, but nursing groups are concerned that the bill misses the point in addressing lapses in patient care.
Sponsored by state Senator Joseph Vitale, D-19, Bill S-989 would establish a required minimum of nurses present per patient in a facility. For example, the bill would require at least one registered nurse per five patients in a psychiatric or behavioral health unit, whereas in an operating room, there would have to be one registered nurse per patient under anesthesia. Where there are existing minimums in place, the new regulations will not decrease them.
Nurses Want a Different Approach to Staffing Concerns
The bill has drawn criticism as health care professionals say it would cause problems, rather than solve them. A statement from the New Jersey State Nurses Association (NJSNA), a trade group comprising 125,000 registered nurses, said that setting a mandatory ratio of nurses to patients is not the best approach to patient care. Patient needs are constantly changing and having rigid requirements in place will make it more challenging for staff to keep up. It could also put inexperienced nurses in emergency situations that they are not prepared for because hospitals must have a certain number of nurses on hand.
The NJSNA states that patient care should not be determined by minimums, but by the patient’s condition and the experience level of the nurses and other staff members. The group recommends that nurses be empowered to determine the appropriate course of action for each patient based on information specific to their case instead. Nurses and other staff, including nursing assistants, transporters, and technicians, have the most contact with patients and can make the most informed decisions regarding patient care.
When hospitals are short-staffed or have staff that does not communicate properly, patients can suffer harm. Health care facilities are constantly facing cutbacks that can affect patient care outcomes. Legislators are right to want to implement solutions that protect patients’ best interests, but if they are not consulting professionals who are on the front line dealing with patients, they may be taking a step in the wrong direction. Until lawmakers come up with a practical long-term solution, it is up to each medical facility to make sure patients are properly cared for and receiving an acceptable level of care.
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