FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sam Fettig
Legislation aims to retain nurses, prioritize patient care and hold hospital CEOs accountable
Introduced today by Sen. Erin Murphy and Rep. Liz Olson, bill a legislative priority for Senate Minority Caucus
(St. Paul) – February 3, 2022 – Minnesota nurses today joined Senator Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), Representative Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth), and Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen (DFL-Edina) to introduce the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act, a bill to address the hospital short-staffing and retention crisis. The conditions that hospital CEOs have created are driving nurses away from the profession and hurting patient care. The Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act puts patients and workers before profits to fix the under-staffing and retention crisis while improving the quality-of-care patients receive at Minnesota hospitals.
“Nurses are overwhelmed and overworked, hospitals are understaffed, and patients are overcharged, all because hospital CEOs who make millions are more concerned with their bottom line than with patient care,” said Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary C Turner, RN. “The Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act will do just what its name says. If this bill is passed, I know, and Minnesotans know, that more nurses will stay on and return to the job, and patient care will improve. I am so thankful, and all of our nurses are so thankful that elected officials heard us and are ready to take action.”
To address this crisis and hold hospital CEOs accountable, the bill would set a firm upper limit on the number of patients any one nurse can be responsible for in the State of Minnesota. The bill would further establish committees of nurses and management at Minnesota hospitals to set staffing levels for units at those facilities. At least sixty percent of all members on these committees would be nurses to help ensure staff levels are sufficient to put patient care before CEO profits.
“Minnesota’s nurses are indispensable, providing care for the critically sick and dying under soul-crushing conditions. The pandemic is illuminating a staffing crisis that existed long before Covid. Nurses have warned us for years about inadequate staffing, and now our system is breaking under the weight of a sustained pandemic. We can’t staff our hospitals with the national guard forever. We need to retain our nurses,” said Senator Erin Murphy. “This legislation aims to prepare and retain nurses in direct care at the bedside. It sets better standards to ensure the safety of our patients and improves transparency about the conditions nurses face at hospitals in order to fix them. We must move this legislation forward as quickly as possible to address the critical situation facing our state.”
While the ultimate solution to the hospital retention crisis requires holding hospital CEOs accountable to provide safe staffing and workplaces, additional measures can help support nurses working at the bedside. The bill includes new measures to recruit and retain workers. These measures include $5 million to launch a new student loan forgiveness program for nurses working at the bedside in Minnesota hospitals and another $5 million for grants to hospitals to establish new mental health programs for nurses and other health care professionals.
“Minnesota nurses deserve more than hollow lip service that puts them on a pedestal as heroes, only to demand they continue working short-staffed with grueling hours and unacceptable patient-to-staff ratios, putting their ability to deliver quality care at risk,” Rep. Olson said. “Our nurse staffing crisis has existed long before COVID-19, but addressing it is all the more urgent due to the pandemic. The Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act will make overdue progress toward supporting nurses and ensuring our health care workforce is safe, sustainable, and puts people before profits.”
To ensure hospital CEOs are being held to safe staffing standards which put patients before profits, the bill would improve hospital transparency about staffing and patient care. The bill would establish a new mandate for the Minnesota Department of Health to conduct studies on the state of nursing in Minnesota, including on nurse staffing and retention, the workplace environment, and ability to provide quality patient care.
“For too long, the nursing shortage has left Minnesota nurses overworked and stretched to exhaustion, and because of it, hospitals are understaffed and patient care is suffering,” said Senate DFL Leader Melisa López Franzen. “This is a crisis for our state that needs immediate action because it is driving talented nurses from the profession at the very time we need them most. Our legislation not only puts in place rules to deal with the shortage but also provides the needed resources to help recruit and retain nurses. It also funds student loan forgiveness and mental health services for nurses who have been pushed to the brink – especially during the pandemic. It will be key to our state’s effort to deal with the nursing staffing shortage and to keep talented nurses safe and on the job, so patients get the quality care they deserve.”
Years of short-staffing and cost-cutting by hospital CEOs leave nurses trying to do more with less. In 2021, Minnesota nurses filed more than 7,800 Concern for Safe Staffing (CFSS) Forms, and a majority of all MNA members reported that short-staffing was negatively impacting patient care. Further, of the thousands of CFSS forms filed, over 80 percent noted that they received no response or inadequate action from hospital management despite the fact that patient care was suffering. In recent weeks, hundreds of nurses have spoken out about the unsustainable conditions in Minnesota hospitals.
“The issue of under-staffing is personal to me and to these nurses. I know multiple RNs who have left the bedside for lower-stress outpatient positions in the last two years. I know multiple RNs that have reduced the hours they are working because of the stress. I know some that have left the workforce entirely and are not employed,” said Becky Nelson, RN, and Chair of MNA’s Government Affairs Commission. “We need help from the legislature to ensure that hospital executives adhere to the staffing grids they set, and that there are programs in place to support nurses at the bedside where we want to be. The health and well-being of our patients depend on it.”
Minnesota continues to train enough nurses to meet needs here, but the unsafe and unsustainable working environment hospital CEOs created are pushing nurses away. From 2020 to 2021, 63 percent of MNA members either considered leaving the bedside or knew someone who had because of their concern for the effects of short-staffing on patient care. Over the same time period there was a 213 percent increase in reported cases where nurses were pulled off orientation to take on patient care by themselves before they had completed onboarding. It will not matter how many nurses are trained or recruited if hospital CEOs continue to foster conditions that push nurses away from the bedside.
“We have nurses. They are still here. Many actually want to come back, but they will not under these circumstances. Not when the working conditions are so poor, and the moral distress is so great. And I can tell you this new generation of nurses will not put up with it either,” said Daniel Clute, RN, and MNA Board Member. “We’re trying to preserve the quality and standards that will keep Minnesota being one of the best U.S. states for healthcare for years to come. We’re trying to protect our practice and protect our patients.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the tragic consequences of the profit-first approach hospital executives have pursued for years. Patients who have felt the impact at the bedside know these problems started long before the pandemic, and they know the problem will not be fixed until hospital executives are held accountable.
“After twelve months of COVID-19, witnessed from a unique perspective as a union steward and chairperson, I knew that I was not keeping myself healthy, that I was dreading going to work, and I was becoming so disgusted by my employer’s treatment of the nurses and disregard for our safety, that I left nursing,” said Jean Forman, RN. “I left with the conclusion that my moral compass no longer aligned with my employer. The nursing shortage is due to unsafe conditions that are within the power of our elected officials and hospital CEOs to improve. I firmly believe that. It’s time to respect the viewpoint and voice of nursing. Protect us so that we can protect our patients.”
If the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act is passed into law, nurses will stay on and return to the job, and patient care will improve. There is no shortage of Minnesota nurses who want to provide safe, high-quality care to their patients; there is a shortage of nurses willing and able to work under these conditions. Hospital CEOs making millions in compensation and benefits can afford to make changes to protect workers and put patients before profits.
About the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act
The bill, chief authored by Senator Murphy and Representative Olson, includes the following provisions.
- Establish Nurse Staffing Committees at Minnesota Hospitals
The bill would require all hospitals in the state of Minnesota to create a staffing committee of nurses and management. This committee will put together a core staffing plan for each unit of the facility every year and will meet quarterly to determine if the staffing plan is still adequate to meet the needs of patients. Each staffing committee will be composed of at least sixty percent nurses.
- Set Limits on the Number of Patients Per Nurse
While providing flexibility across hospitals and units, under the bill each staffing committee plan must set a strict maximum limit on the number of patients that any one nurse should safely care for. Each staffing plan will also establish criteria for when a lower patient assignment would be appropriate.
- Recruit and Train Nursing Students
While Minnesota continues to train more than enough nursing students to meet the state’s need, this bill would dedicate new resources to ensure we continue to attract and train a skilled and diverse workforce of Registered Nurses in Minnesota. This includes broadening an existing student loan forgiveness program for nursing instructors and allocating $5 million to launch a new student loan forgiveness program for nurses working at the bedside in Minnesota hospitals.
- Retain and Sustain Minnesota Nurses
The solution to the hospital retention crisis requires holding hospital CEOs accountable to safe staffing levels, but additional measures can help to support nurses working at the bedside. One significant effort funded by this bill would provide yearly $5 million for grants to hospitals to establish mental health programs for nurses and other health care professionals. The bill also provides an annual appropriation of $50,000 for the Minnesota Department of Health to develop and implement violence prevention strategies for nurses and patients in Minnesota hospitals.
- Review and Release Hospital Safety Data
The bill includes several provisions to make the decisions of hospital executives more transparent to the public, to hold CEOs accountable when data shows that there are safety or other staffing problems which need to be addressed. The bill would require the hospital staffing committees to review all Concern for Safe Staffing forms filed by nurses and to consider changes based on the data. The bill would also establish an annual report from the Minnesota Department of Health on Nursing Data. This new effort would conduct studies on the state of nursing in Minnesota, including on nurse staffing and retention in Minnesota hospitals, the workplace environment, and ability to provide quality patient care.