FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sam Fettig
Act to retain nurses and protect patient care included in omnibus released today, bringing it closer to vote in the Minnesota House
(St. Paul) – April 6, 2022 – Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association applauded the inclusion of the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act in the Minnesota House Health Omnibus Bill released today (sec. 27, line 38.12). The act would address the short-staffing and retention crisis to protect patient care in Minnesota by establishing local, flexible, hospital-based committees of nurses and managers who would work together to set staffing levels on a unit-by-unit basis, including a limit on the number of patients for which any one nurse is responsible. The bill would also fund grants to support mental health for healthcare workers and to prevent workplace violence. It would help to recruit and retain the next generation of nurses with new funding for loan forgiveness programs.
“I thank Chair Liebling for making the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act a priority in the Minnesota House this session,” said Becky Nelson, RN, Chair of MNA’s Government Affairs Commission. “Nurses are leaving the bedside due to under staffing, unsupportive management, and unsustainable working conditions. It is time to act to address the crisis of retention and short-staffing and to put patient care first in our hospitals.”
The bill has the support of Governor Tim Walz, the House Majority Caucus and the Senate Minority Caucus. After it was introduced in February, the bill was heard in the House Health Finance and Policy Committee and laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill released today. In that February committee hearing, nurses shared their stories of the effects of under-staffing by hospital executives and how the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act could address the crisis in our hospitals.
“We are at a critical moment for our healthcare system in Minnesota. There is a crisis in our hospitals. Nurses are overworked and overwhelmed, hospitals are understaffed, and patients are overcharged, because hospital CEOs are putting patient care in the backseat to their bottom lines,” said MNA President Mary C. Turner, RN. “The Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act is our best chance to stabilize our healthcare system in Minnesota. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it is a hyper-local proposal that would put nurses and hospital managers at the table together to set staff levels that will help nurses stay on the job to provide safe, excellent care that patients deserve.”
The conditions that executives have created in Minnesota hospitals are driving nurses away from the profession and hurting patient care. A new report just released by the Minnesota Nurses Association documents the reasons nurses are leaving the bedside, and identified poor management practices and chronic under-staffing as the top concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exposed and amplified the tragic consequences of the profit-first approach hospital executives have pursued for years.
“I have been a nurse for one year and three months and I am already exhausted. I went into nursing to care for people and make a difference. I love my career, yet I just don’t know how much longer I can do it,” said Priyanka Roy, RN. “The most important thing is that my patients are safe and well-cared for. And I can’t do that because it’s humanly impossible to do all that I should do as a nurse when I have too many patients. My career choice feels like a punishment. Healthcare should be a social good, not about making money for CEOs and corporate healthcare systems.”
While the ultimate solution to the hospital retention crisis requires holding hospital CEOs accountable to provide safe staffing and workplaces, additional measures can help to 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 $1 million for grants to hospitals to establish new mental health programs for nurses and other health care professionals.
“Hospitals are responsible for providing safe working conditions for their employees. However, executives have shifted the needle on what is normal in our hospitals and chronic short-staffing is their strategy, not a short-term crisis,” said Calli Pettigrew, RN. “The weight of chronic understaffing has led numerous colleagues to leave the bedside. They are exhausted, overwhelmed, and their mental health is suffering.”
Minnesota continues to train more than enough nurses to meet needs here, and the state now has a record-high number of RNs, totaling 120,000 statewide. But the unsafe and unsustainable working environment hospital CEOs created are pushing nurses away. In 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. 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.
“After a patient passed away, the expectation was that after I tended to their body and the room was cleaned, I had a new patient to take care of in that room within the hour. To compartmentalize this grief without being given time to process the trauma is in no way new to nurses, but the number of times per day, week, and month that this is needed has increased exponentially,” said Tess Schlicksup, RN. “That patient deserved all of my time and attention during their dying process. Yet, during that shift, I had two other patients who needed care. As hospital executives continue to cut back on staffing, it is common that nurses are taking on larger patient assignments.”
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 act, now included in the House Health Omnibus Bill, 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, direct care staff, 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 fifty percent direct care nurses and staff.
- 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 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 new 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. 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.
- Support Mental Health for Healthcare Workers – One significant effort funded by this bill would provide yearly $1 million for grants mental health programs for nurses and other healthcare professionals. The grants would be made available by the Minnesota Department of Health to hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities and organizations to fund new or existing efforts to make mental health services available to healthcare workers, especially those with barriers to accessing care.
- 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 that need to be addressed. The bill would require the hospital staffing committees to review all Concern for Safe Staffing forms filed by nurses and patients 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 trends in retention and why nurses are leaving direct care positions at hospitals.