Patient Protection Act Proposed for DC Hospitals

Survey: 57% of District Hospital Nurses Cite Inadequate Staffing


Registered nurses joined with District of Columbia Council members and community supporters in a press conference today to announce the introduction of the Patient Protection Act to dramatically improve care in DC hospitals to protect patients.

Speaking to a room packed with some 200 DC RNs, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called the bill “common sense, today’s version of the 8-hour day.” It is intended, he said, to address “the short change of healthcare due to the bottom line, ensure an adequate number of nurses on duty and eliminate (nurse) burnout.”

Opening the press conference, Washington Hospital Center RN Rajini Raj explained the bill would establish mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios by hospital unit, augmented by additional staffing based on individual patient needs. It is “modeled on a successful California law that has dramatically improved patient safety, brought 130,000 additional nurses back to the bedside, and has helped keep experienced nurses taking care of patients.”

The Patient Protection Act, Mendelson emphasized, “provides a minimum number of nurses on duty by specific unit at all times”

The bill is prompted in part by an autumn 2012 NNU survey of DC area nurses which found:

  • 57 percent of DC nurses say staffing is inadequate always or almost always;
  • 64 percent said they have less time to care for patients;
  • 60 percent say changes in their workload have led to worse outcomes for patients;
  • 88 percent say they have had to work through meal and rest breaks because of inadequate staffing;
  • 87 percent say that mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, such as those in California, are needed in DC.

“All the time I hear from nurses working at hospitals across the District that they are forced to run between too many patients,” said Margaret Shanks, RN at Children’s National Medical Center and president of the District of Columbia Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

“In the neonatal intensive care unit (at Children’s) the patient load has been increased on many occasions by 50%,” Shanks said. “It means that our youngest, most vulnerable babies sometimes just don’t get the care they need.  This can lead to unnecessary suffering for the babies and readmissions that drive up costs. I became a nurse to save lives and comfort the sick. And when those babies and their parents need a nurse, we should be able to be there.”