A new bipartisan bill aims to create legally enforceable minimum staffing standards for nurses in Ohio’s hospitals, as well as establish an incentive program to encourage people to pursue nursing careers in the state.
The Nurse Workforce and Safe Patient Care Act, sponsored by Ohio Reps. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, and Elgin Rogers, D-Toledo, would establish safe staffing standards in every Ohio hospital and preserve nurse staffing committees within hospitals to ensure nurses have input in setting safe staffing levels in their hospitals.
Temporary adjustments from these safe staffing levels would only be permitted in extraordinary circumstances and the interest of patient care.
The bill also would create a $20 million loan-to-grant program to help pay for the education of nurses who commit to five years of nursing services in Ohio. It would also form a reporting system that would provide whistleblower protections for anyone who files a complaint against a hospital for inadequate staffing.
“The bill will create better conditions both for our patients, which will translate to our friends, our family, our neighbors and those we live with here in the great state of Ohio,” Ghanbari said during a news conference at the State House in Columbus on Wednesday, Sept. 27. “But also, it will be a better opportunity that will translate into a better work environment for nurses in Ohio’s hospitals.”
Rogers added that the pandemic exacerbated staffing problems in Ohio’s hospitals. This bill would provide the nursing workforce with the support it deserves, he said.
Ghanbari and Rogers urged their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the bill.
Seven out of every 10 direct care nurses in Ohio are considering leaving bedside nursing because of their working conditions, according to a statewide nursing survey released by the Ohio Nurses Association in support of the bill.
About 58% of nurses who have already left direct care nursing jobs cited patient care load as a factor in their decision to leave. Eighty-eight percent of direct care nurses said minimum staffing stands in Ohio would increase the likelihood of them staying in a direct care role.
Last spring, the Ohio Nurses Association launched a campaign to call attention to understaffing in the state’s hospitals.
The CODE RED campaign focuses on five strategic areas: staffing levels, working conditions, pipeline, corporate trends and trust and age. Its goal is to promote safe staffing ratios and persuade employers and lawmakers to implement staffing ratios for the safety of nurses and patients.
Ohio Nurses Association President Robert Weitzel told Crain's that thousands of nurses have left the profession since the pandemic because of burnout, stress and dangerous patient loads.
Approximately 100,000 U.S. nurses left the workforce during the pandemic. According to a 2023 study from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, about 800,000 nurses say they plan to leave the field by 2027.
That equates to roughly one-fifth of the county’s nursing workforce, Weitzel said.
Healthcare systems have undervalued and underinvested in healthcare workers, he said, and the strain placed on them by staffing shortages is resulting in many nurses leaving the bedside. Some systems have tried to remedy the issue with mandatory overtime, on-call shifts or by hiring travel nurses, but these temporary resolutions ultimately lead to more burnout.
Weitzel said the workforce crisis could have serious consequences on the nation’s healthcare system if measures aren’t taken to remedy it.
This bill would be a step in the right direction, he said, by helping ensure safety and care for both patients and nurses.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to fix the burnout (problem),” Weitzel said.