Sen. Brenner introduces bill to improve patient-nurse ratios and patient safety
AUGUSTA — On Thursday, Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, introduced LD 1639, “An Act to Address Unsafe Staffing of Nurses and Improve Patient Care,” before the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee. The bill aims to help improve patient safety and hospital staff morale by setting minimum patient-nurse ratios in Maine.
“Nursing in Maine is becoming increasingly difficult. The bill in front of you today accomplishes two primary goals: increasing patient safety and encouraging nurse retention. Not all of us are going to practice as nurses but at some point in life, we are all either going to be a patient or going to be the loved one of a patient,” said Sen. Stacy Brenner, who is a certified nurse-midwife. “The care and touch of a knowledgeable and dedicated nurse in those times when you are feeling most vulnerable greatly increases patient satisfaction, dignity, and the overall perception of their hospital experience. This is a bill for everyone. But, most especially, this is a bill for bedside nurses.”
LD 1639 would establish the Maine Quality Care Act in order to ensure adequate direct-care registered nurse — also called “bedside nurse” — staffing assignments in health care facilities, including hospitals, freestanding emergency departments and ambulatory surgical facilities, to provide safe and effective patient care. It would establish minimum direct-care registered nurse staffing requirements based on the patient care unit and patient needs, specify the method to calculate a health care facility’s compliance with the staffing requirements, protect direct-care registered nurses from retaliation and include notice, record-keeping and enforcement requirements.
“Unsafe staffing ratios put patients and staff at risk. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses order high risk medications and orders for many complex hospital patients,” said Amy Brown with the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, in testimony supporting the bill. “We are concerned that the current nurse-patient ratios leave these patients at risk because the nurse is taking care of too many patients unable to monitor the patient closely, and this can lead to complications and death. Nurse burn-out rates are increasing and if our healthcare system continues to force our nurses to practice in this way, we will continue to lose skilled nurses.”
A 2021 study on sepsis treatment found that for each additional patient per nurse, patients are 7% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 60 days, 7% more likely to die within 60 days, and 12% more likely to die in-hospital. Patients also experience longer lengths of stay. A study out of New York about patient ratios states that, “Were hospitals staffed at the 4:1 [patient-nurse] ratio proposed in the legislation, we conservatively estimated 4370 lives saved and $720 million saved over the 2-year study period in shorter lengths of stay and avoided readmissions.”
Additionally, multiple studies show nurse retention rates increase with safe staffing ratios.
The bill faces further action in committee.