Brown Reintroduces Legislation to Improve Patient Care, Empower Nurses During National Nurses Week

Bill Would Set Minimum Nurse-to-Patient Staffing Requirements, Study Best Practices for Nurse Staffing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference during National Nurses Week as he joins U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to reintroduce the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. 

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, no rules exist to establish minimum staffing levels at hospitals, which 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 lower nurse-to-patient ratios are associated with lower mortality rates. Brown’s bill directs hospitals to develop and implement nurse staffing plans that ensure quality care and patient safety.    

“Nurses work long hours doing vital work in our health care system – their jobs are critical to keeping patients safe and providing the highest quality care,” said Brown. “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 bill 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.

Brown was joined on today’s call by Michelle Mohan, RN from the National Nurses Union in Cleveland, and Rick Lucas, RN, a nurse and AFT member from Columbus. Both talked about the importance of establishing safe staffing levels for patient care and why Brown’s bill is so critical to help nurses do their jobs effectively.

“Registered nurses in Ohio and throughout the nation have witnessed the devastating impact of understaffing of nurses in hospitals and health care facilities. We know that mandatory minimum federal nurse to patient ratios, modeled after the staffing ratios law in California, will save thousands of lives and drastically reduce injury and burnout of nurses. There is no doubt that this legislation is needed now for our patients and nurses,” said Mohan.

“As a bedside nurse, who every day sees the impact of unsafe staffing levels, I thank Senator Brown for stepping up and fighting for nurses in Ohio and across the country. I’ve watched too many colleagues stressed, depressed, injured and eventually forced to leave a job they love because they aren't given the needed support to do their jobs well. It's not rocket science - research shows that proper staffing levels improve care and retention. As important, as the established staffing levels, are the safe guards put in place to make sure that healthcare workers feel empowered to speak up when dangerous staffing levels are present. All too often, speaking up for our patients and coworkers can lead to punishment. For the sake of nurses and patients, I hope Congress passes this bill as soon as possible,” said Lucas.

Brown’s bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). National Nurses United, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and AFSCME have all endorsed Brown’s bill.

“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. 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 Bonnie Castillo, RN, Executive Director, National Nurses United. 

“Every day, thousands of nurses report to work around the country and are overwhelmed by their patient load. They balance care, paperwork, and the near-constant demands of their job, terrified that there are too many patients and not enough nurses, and that fear can 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. This threat to nurse safety is ultimately a threat to patient health: safe staffing levels make workplaces safer, and that makes patient outcomes better. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, halving the nurse-to- patient ratio can account for a significant decrease in patient deaths per every 1,000 patients. Safe, welcoming workplaces are critical for every member of our union, and for the people we serve. This Nurse Appreciation Week, we must do everything we can to stand up for the people who have devoted their careers and their lives to taking care of others. 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.  

Brown is reintroducing his 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. 

Read more about Brown’s bill HERE.