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State nurses rail against bill requiring minimum nurse-to-patient ratios

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The New Jersey State Nurses Association, a trade group that represents roughly 125,000 registered nurses in the state, is arguing against a new bill that would require medical care facilities and hospitals to establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

The bill, S-989, sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-19th District, states that “minimum nurse-to-patient ratios will vary depending on the type of unit, and will range from one registered professional nurse for every five patients in a behavioral health or psychiatric or a medical/surgical unit, to one registered professional nurse for every patient under anesthesia in an operating room. The regulations adopted by the Commissioner of Health are not to decrease any nurse-to-patient staffing ratios that are already in effect on the bill’s effective date.”

Judith Schmidt, NJSNA’s CEO, argues the new bill could decrease the quality of care for patients because it could set up situations in which an inexperienced nurses would have to handle emergency situations. She added “ratios are rigid and dictate a set number of staff, which is not the best model for optimal patient care, which constantly changes. We need to give the nurses at the bedside the authority and the accountability for staffing their units as needed.”

Instead, nurse managers need to be held more accountable for staffing based on the patient needs and nurse skill levels, Schmidt said in a statement.

“This bill does not address some of the key issues that occur with staffing, such as the constantly changing needs of patients,” said Schmidt in a public statement. “Staffing is not about a specific number, but the appropriate mix of how sick the patients are, which dictates how much care they need, plus the level of experience of the nurse.”

Schmidt also said that the bill does not address the availability of assistive personnel such as nursing assistants, transporters and technicians. 

“With healthcare economics the way they are, hospitals are going to have to eliminate some of the assistive positions,” she said. “Nurses and their assistants have the most contact, one-on-one time and direct care of patients within the healthcare system.”

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Vince Calio

Vince Calio

Vince Calio covers health care and manufacturing for NJBIZ. You can contact him at vcalio@njbiz.com.

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