National Nurses Week: A Call in Illinois for Safer Staffing

May 7, 2019

It's National Nurses Week, and advocates for the profession are continuing their fight for safer working conditions.

There is no limit in Illinois as to how many patients an RN can treat at one time. According to Alice Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association, this can lead to understaffing and compromised patient care. However, she noted, minimum nurse-staffing levels for hospitals could be created through the Safe Patient Limits Act, HB 2604.

"First and foremost, nurses are patient advocates, and the Safe Patient Limits Act is really about protecting and caring for patents," Johnson said. "I think we're going to see real change this year because nurses are energized and ready to step up and make sure that this law gets passed."

There are more than 182,000 registered nurses in Illinois. Half of them work in hospital or acute-care settings. And Johnson noted on a medical-surgical unit, the likelihood of patient death rises by 7% for each patient past four who is assigned to an RN.

Opponents to the bill counter there is no solid evidence that mandatory staffing ratios improve the quality of care.

Johnson said she questions other claims by opponents that the limits would be too costly for hospitals to implement, leading to closures or reduced services.

"More nurses is going to mean better patient care, it's going to mean more safety for the nurses and that is going to save money," she argued. "There was a study that showed that implementing the Safe Patient limits would save over $1 billion for Illinois hospitals."

Johnson said improved nurse-to-patient ratios also would reduce costs by reducing workplace burnout and staff turnover. California is the only state that has a law mandating required minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, which a 2015 study associated with more than 50% fewer occupational injuries and illnesses per 10,000 RNs per year.