Following many American nursing associations, a group of Texas nurses have begun advocating statewide legislation that would mandate lower nurse-to-patient ratios than current practice in the state. The National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) which promotes safe staffing legislation in the U.S., notably California, prompted Texas legislators to support the bill that would mandate these ratios and provide nurses protection in reporting unsafe practices.
The bill was filed by Houston congressmen Sen. Mario Gallegos and Rep. Senfronia Thompson. Thompson decided such legislation was necessary after a personal experience she had with unsafe understaffing. A grandchild of hers was taken to the hospital with a fever and it the family had to spend five hours waiting to be seen.
This case was not special for the state, either. Across Texas a serious shortage of nursing professionals is taking a toll. According to state officials, 70,000 nursing positions in the state will go unfilled by 2020. Health educators from El Paso estimate that the state currently has 22,000 unfilled nursing jobs.
The conditions for medical employees in this nursing shortage is exacerbating the problem, while care for patients is compromised.
Many nurses are experiencing rapid job burnout as a result of strenuous hours and having to witness a decline in patient care. Unsafe working conditions are forcing many nurses to change career or retire early, which puts a greater burden on the remaining RNs. The bill proposes that statewide nurse-to-patient ratios be set at a level that will ensure better care for Texans. Ideally, this ratio could be set at one nurse for three patients, however in our current practices a nurse may be required to care for seven patients at a time.
Still, there are others who disagree that state mandated staffing ratios are the right answer to this problem. They agree that more nurses are needed, but think the focus should be on producing more nurses. They call for expanded educational opportunities for those seeking nursing degrees. By expanding class and lab facilities and hiring more instructors, schools wouldn't be forced to turn away thousands of qualified applicants to graduate nursing programs simply for lack of faculty or space.
And while staffing ratios are recognized as important, many others believe those numbers should be set by individual healthcare facilities rather than the state. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed a bill in January 2009 with the support of the Texas Hospital Association and Texas Nurses Association that gives nurse staffing committees at local hospitals the ability to set staffing numbers.