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Proposed nurse-to-patient ratio could help keep hospitals fully-staffed

A male nurse walking down a hallway. (WICS)
A male nurse walking down a hallway. (WICS)
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Illinois is experiencing a nursing shortage and some are pushing for a mandated nurse-to-patient ratio to make sure hospitals are adequately staffed.

Over the next five years, an estimated 20,000 nurses are expected to retire in Illinois, according to the Illinois Health and Hospital Association. That's not the only thing causing the state's nursing shortage

"We've got nurses who are moving up in the education world, moving into specialty clinicians or education,” said Sonja Harvey, associate dean of nursing at Lincoln Land Community College. "So, they're leaving the bedside."

A new study by the University of Illinois and Illinois Economic Policy Institute found current laws don't allow for adequate staffing and talk about implementing a statewide nurse-to-patient ratio, like in California.

"In California, we saw emergency departments have to go on what's called bypass because they weren’t able to meet the patient-ratio requirement during emergencies,” said David Gross, director of government relations for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.

The Safe Patient Limits Act is now in the House Rules Committee and calls for a two-to-one nurse ratio in Intensive Care Units and a three-to-one ratio for pediatric and observational patients.

The study found understaffing lead to poor patient outcomes and higher mortality rates among surgical patients.

"Taking care of this one patient, it does take a village,” Harvey said. “You have that, then you have the added stress of more patients that decreases the nurse's time with each patient."

Some say a new ratio would not only be hard to fill because of the nursing shortage but other problems as well.

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"This could be up to $2 billion in increased health care costs at a time when we know health insurance premiums are very high,” Gross said. “So we're very concerned about the cost but we're also concerned about who gets to make that decision about those patients in their hospitals."

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