Brown referenced a bill introduced by Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and David Joyce (R-Ohio). The Registered Nurse Safe-Staffing Act of 2013 would mandate nurse-staffing ratios and require hospitals to post nurse-staffing levels on Medicare's Hospital Compare website. The bill was introduced in April to the House, and in March was referred to the House Subcommittee on Health.
The bill would “establish upwardly adjustable minimum ratios of direct-care registered nurses to patients for each unit and for each shift of the hospital, based upon an assessment by registered nurses of the level and variability of intensity of care required by patients under existing conditions.”
The American Hospital Association provided this comment: “The American Hospital Association generally opposes any congressional mandate that applies a cookie-cutter approach to patient care. We support flexibility for the clinicians responsible for the care so that they can assess patient needs and respond appropriately.”
In her commentary, Brown recognized that financial considerations will affect the bill's fate: “It is collecting co-sponsors, but similar legislation has never gotten very far because hospital administrators view such mandates as too costly.”
That thinking is flawed, Brown suggested, arguing that the legislation would reduce hospital costs by providing better care that then could decrease patient readmissions to hospitals.
The American Nurses Association describes its support for the bill as a matter of improving patient safety. It wants to ensure nurses aren't overworked.
“Federal legislation is necessary to increase protections for patients and ensure fair working conditions for nurses,” ANA President Karen Daley said in a news release. (PDF)
The bill would require hospitals to develop a staffing plan and nurse-staffing plan committee. Hospital officials also would have to post staffing ratios inside facilities.
It's not the first time such a bill has been introduced in Congress. Capps, a former nurse, sponsored a similar bill in 2011 which failed.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced a separate, similar bill in April in the Senate. That bill has garnered support from National Nurses United. The union has been pushing for staffing bills on the state level on the grounds of improving patient safety. The legislation also would help union members by increasing the number of nursing jobs.
Follow Ashok Selvam on Twitter: @MH_aselvam