Congresswoman Schakowsky, Senator Brown Introduce Nurse Staffing Standards Legislation

May 12, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in reintroducing the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. Schakowsky and Brown’s bill would set minimum nurse-to-patient staffing requirements, study best practices for nurse staffing, and provide whistleblower protections to protect the right of nurses to advocate for the safety of their patients. Currently, very few states have rules written into law that establish minimum staffing levels at hospitals. Lack of safe staffing rules can put patients at risk and often forces nurses to care for too many patients at one time without enough support. Studies have shown that safe staffing saves lives, specifically that lower nurse-to-patient ratios are associated with lower mortality rates. This legislation directs hospitals to develop and implement nurse staffing plans that ensure quality care and patient safety.   

“This National Nurses Week and in celebration of our frontline nurses and heroes on International Nurses Day, I am proud to reintroduce the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act with my friend Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “Safe staffing levels save lives and contributes to lower patient mortality rates. Numerous studies have shown that safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios result in higher quality care for patients, lower health care costs, and a better workplace for nurses. This bill will improve the health of patients by improving nursing care—establishing minimum registered nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, providing whistleblower protections to nurses who advocate on behalf of their patients, and investing in training and career development to retain hardworking nurses in the workforce. The pandemic has only magnified the need to support nurses in their work. It is past time that we act on the evidence and give nurses the support they deserve and put patients over profits. I will continue to partner with nurses across the country in promoting this bill and fighting to end dangerous staffing.”

“Nurses worked long hours, doing vital work in our health care system, even before this once-in-a-generation pandemic. They have been on the frontlines of this crisis for more than a year now, and they deserve our support,” said Senator Brown. “Their jobs are critical to keeping patients safe and providing the highest quality care. But too often, nurses are stretched too thin, caring for too many patients with not enough support. We can prevent that by ensuring nurses are adequately staffed, and protecting their ability to go to hospital management, without fearing potential retaliation.”

The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act would also provide educational support for nurses through an expansion of the nurse retention grant and support for the nurse workforce loan repayment and scholarship program.

National Nurses United, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and AFSCME have all endorsed the legislation.

“National Nurses United is proud to endorse the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. Registered nurses are on the front lines of caring for our patients at the bedside, and yet we are often unable to deliver the care that patients need because hospital administrators dangerously under-staff our facilities. The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this longstanding hazard in our hospitals, with hospital employers consistently refusing to increase staffing levels despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. We know from numerous scientific studies, and from the results of the landmark nurse-to-patient ratios state law in California, that mandatory, minimum nurse-to-patient ratios save patients’ lives and improve quality of care, while also reducing nurse burnout and keeping experienced nurses at the bedside. NNU commends Senator Brown and Congresswoman Schakowsky on their leadership on this issue and urges all Members of Congress to cosponsor this vital legislation,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, President, National Nurses United.

“The past year pushed our healthcare system, nurses and healthcare professionals to the breaking point. Nurses were overwhelmed by their patient load, in the midst of surge after surge of the pandemic, balancing care, paperwork and helping patients retain dignity, with far too little support and protections from the hospitals where they work. They worked tirelessly, often without sick leave, knowing that there were too many patients and not enough nurses, with the ever-present fear that these numbers might impact their ability to provide their patients with what they need. For some, the greater fear is in speaking up: when they do advocate for safer nurse-to-patient ratios, they are retaliated against, targeted, and are the subject of discipline from their bosses. Safe staffing levels make workplaces safer and make patient outcomes better – and a lack of appropriate staffing levels is a threat to patient health. Doing nothing will result in more people leaving and create more shortages and push our healthcare system to the brink. All this threatens our ability to provide care across the country. Thanks to two of our greatest champions, Sen. Brown and Rep. Schakowsky for honoring and respecting our country’s nurses with a bill to keep them safe on the job, and in turn, protect the people they care for, too,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Patients, nurses and hospital staff are safer and healthier when hospitals provide adequate nurse-to-patient staffing levels. The pandemic has underscored the urgent need to address years of dangerous understaffing that made it harder for our brave and dedicated nurses to treat their patients and keep themselves safe on the job. By requiring hospitals to meet a minimum safe staffing ratio, this bill will ensure that our nurses are better able to deliver quality care and avoid additional complications, medication errors and preventable deaths that can result when nurses are understaffed,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders.

Schakowsky and Brown are reintroducing the bill during National Nurses Week, which started in 1993 after the American Nurses Association declared May 6-12 as the national week to celebrate nurses and the nursing profession. Each year, National Nurses Week ends on May 12 to mark Florence Nightingale’s birthday.