Bill intends to ensure adequate nursing

Creative Commons The Safe Patient Care Act is intended to limit the amount of mandatory overtime nurses work in hospitals, as well as limit the number of patients they can be assigned to care for.

Reintroduced in the state Legislature last week, the Safe Patient Care Act (SPCA) is designed to hold hospitals accountable in staffing adequate nursing in providing health care.

“We have rules for truck drivers, airline traffic controllers, locomotive engineers, people who have people’s lives in their hands and yet we have no rules for nurses,” Dawn Kettinger from the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) said.

This package of bills would limit the number of patients a nurse can be assigned. It also limits mandatory overtime for nurses, and requires hospitals to report the nurse-to-patient ratios in each department to the state.

The SPCA allows for exceptions in the event of an unforeseen emergent situation, defined as an occurrence that is unpredictable or unavoidable and requires immediate medical intervention. It also rules out exceptions for situations that result from labor disputes or consistent understaffing.

“People want to see an emphasis put on nursing care and not on cutting costs where it affects patients most,” Kettinger said.

The MNA commissioned a survey by Anderson Robbins Research in 2015-17 for which it polled 600 Michigan voters. The poll found 77 percent of voters said nurse understaffing is hurting patients. 80 percent of voters said they would support a safe staffing law.

“We know from research and listening to nurses that when they have too many patients to take care of, they’re not able to give every patient the care that they need,” Kettinger said.

Kettinger also said the MNA believes the nursing shortage would not be as severe as many hospitals fear.

“What we see is a shortage of nurses who are willing to work under the conditions that hospitals create,” she said. “As long as hospitals continue to burn them out we can’t expect nurses to want to work at hospitals, especially for long periods of time.”

Kettinger also said hospitals have been refusing to hire and retain nurses with associate degrees, despite their qualification under state regulation. Instead hospitals prefer nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

“Nursing is a very experiential profession,” Kettinger said. “There are many associate degree nurses with years of experience providing great patient care right now, so to try to eliminate an entire part of the workforce artificially exacerbates a shortage.”

Laura Wotruba, the director of public affairs for the Michigan Health and Hospitals Association, said they are pushing to allow community colleges to offer a bachelor’s in nursing so more nurses can be trained.

Kettinger said that the bill package has plenty of support, and if the legislature takes a vote on the issue, there is optimism it will pass this time.

“The key thing is really to make sure that we fix the fact that there’s no law that limits the number of patients a nurse can be assigned and there’s no law that keeps them from having to work past the point of exhaustion,” Kettinger said.