Nurses from Northwest Pennsylvania convened at a billboard calling for greater limitations on the number of patients a nurse can attend to during a shift on Friday. The advertisement, located on state Route 8 outside of Centerville, is one of two billboards that Nurses of Pennsylvania, a non-profit advocacy group for nurses and patients, crowd funded in order to raise awareness about the issue and possible legislation.
Shelbie Stromyer, a registered nurse from Venango County with more than 30 years of experience, is a Nurses of PA member. Stromyer said the primary initiative of regulating nurse to patient ratios in hospitals and care facilities is to better ensure the safety of the patients.
“This is a non-nonsense vote,” she said. “I think that it’s common sense really. We hear the same stories everywhere we go about nurses being overworked and patients suffering as a result. The public deserves to know the issues that nurses are facing and how that is impacting their care.”
Nurses of PA has come out in support of two bills, House Bill 867 and Senate Bill 450, which are reportedly still in committee in their respective legislative chambers. The two billboards outside of Centerville, along with a third planned to be put up near Columbus in Erie County, were erected to garner attention the the nurse’s cause.
According to their online petition, Nurses of PA consider hospital and nursing home care to be in crisis, and have two primary goals they hope to ensure through state regulation:
— Increase the State Staffing Standard from 2.7 to 4.1 hours of direct care per day, per resident, from nurses, aides and other staff to make sure they are getting the time, care and attention they deserve
— Require Medicaid increases for nursing homes to go directly to the bedside to pay for more staff, higher wages, affordable healthcare and training programs to recruit and retain a strong workforce
According to Nurses of PA, the legislation would not increase the base salaries of nurses in Pennsylvania, but it would likely require hospitals to hire additional nurses.
Stromyer said a lot of the pushback they’ve received over the past year stems from the idea that there aren’t enough nurses to alleviate the problem. She and her fellow nurses dispute the validity of this claim, citing a federal workforce study that found only 76% of registered nurses in Pennsylvania are currently employed.
“A lot of times healthcare executives claim there aren’t enough nurses to have safe patient limits, but it’s not true,” Stromyer said. “The toll of the staffing crisis isn’t just felt by patients. The nursing profession is being deeply impacted. It’s one of the most dangerous professions, and for older nurses, our bodies are breaking under the stress, while younger nurses are leaving the bedside completely or going back to further their education to play other roles in healthcare.”
Eileen Kelly, a registered nurse from Warren County, was also in attendance. Kelly said many nurses have similar experiences dealing with excessive work and being unable to adequately care for their patients. The problem is, she said, nurses are often silenced by the hospitals they work for.
“People don’t understand how privacy legislation keeps us mute,” Kelly said. “We have to omit a lot of details from our testimonials. We can’t include peoples names or specific dates, so we have to be careful when we share our stories. That sets us back while lobbyists can give big money to earn votes in the house and senate.”
The nurses in attendance estimated that they have the public support of 76 members in the House, and 23 members of the Senate. Stromyer believes they are closer to a majority because many members of both House and Senate have silently supported the respective bills, but are waiting until a hearing can be held.
Nurses of PA said they have met with both Representative Kathy Rapp (R-65) and Senator Michelle Brooks (R-50), who serve as the chairs of the House and Senate health committees, respectively. Kelly said that those meetings and the billboards have been aimed at the congresswomen in order to set up a formal hearing.
“If we have no hearing, we have nothing,” she said. “We’ve had three meetings with Rapp and also have met with Senator Brooks previously. We’ve been told by both that they’re considering a formal hearing, but we’ve received no guarantees. I think we’re better off than we were a year ago, but a lot more has to be done.”
Registered nurse Kimberly Aldrich said the concerns raised by hospitals and care facilities are valid, but that the measures proposed by the two bills will not cost them in the long run. On average, Aldrich said it costs $80,000 to replace a nurse that quits, and that patients who are neglected are more likely to contract infections during their stay.
She said patients should have the guarantee that they will be taken care of and be reassured when their loved ones are in the hospital.
“What gets me is that this is not an unprecedented idea in Pennsylvania,” Aldrich said. “When we drop our kids off at daycare, we can rest assured that the facility is legally required to adhere to limits on the number of kids a childcare worker can be assigned. Why should we accept less if our kids are in the hospital?”
Nurses of PA plans to hold a follow-up presentation at Edinboro University called “Safe Staffing Townhall” on Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. The online petition for regulated patient limits can be found on their website, nursesofpa.org/petition.
Zook can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.