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Nurses: Law mandating nurse-to-patient staffing levels needed

Nurse George Rouse prepares a patient for a pacemaker operation.
Dan Bobkoff
Michigan Radio
Nurse George Rouse prepares a patient for a pacemaker operation.

The Michigan Nurses Association is supporting legislation that would mandate specific nurse-to-patient staffing levels in hospitals.

For example, an emergency room nurse, under most circumstances, could care for no more than three patients.

A pediatric intensive care unit nurse could care for only one patient at a time.

John Armelagos is president of the Michigan Nurses Association. He says having too many patients causes stress and fatigue for nurses, as well as the potential for mistakes.

"More errors happen when the increased workload happens," says Armelagos. "The ability to respond quickly diminishes when their workload increases."

The MNA released a survey the same day the legislation was introduced. Armelagos says the survey shows Michigan residents would support the legislation.

"Almost eight in 10 voters agreed quality patient care in Michigan hospitals is suffering because nurses are being assigned too many patients per shift."

Armelago says the legislation could also help with the shortage of nurses. He says "tens of thousands" of nurses re-entered the clinical and hospital care setting in California after a bill setting mandatory nurse-to-patient levels became a state law.

Laura Wotruba, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, says the group's governance committee hasn't seen the bill yet.

"However, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association has historically not supported legislation that would require hospitals to implement minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios," Wotruba said in an email. "Most hospital clinical and financial managers contend that mandated staffing ratios would have a serious negative impact on patient access to quality care and hospital financial viability."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.