FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sam Fettig
Bill laid over for inclusion in the House Omnibus Health Bill, marking it a top-priority health issue for the House Majority Caucus
(St. Paul) – February 15, 2022 – Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association today testified in support of the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act (SF3027, HF 3242) during the bill’s first committee hearing before the House Health Policy and Finance Committee. The bill, introduced last week, would address the short-staffing and retention crisis to protect patient care in Minnesota by establishing local, hospital-based committees of nurses and managers who would work together to set staffing levels on a unit-by-unit basis. The bill would also fund grants to support mental health for nurses and to prevent workplace violence. It would help to recruit and retain the next generation of nurses with new funding for loan forgiveness programs.
“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 bill is chief authored by Representative Liz Olson of Duluth in the House and Senator Erin Murphy of St. Paul in the Senate and has been made a legislative priority by both the House Majority and the Senate Minority caucuses. At the committee hearing this afternoon, the bill was laid over for inclusion in the House Omnibus Health Bill, marking it as a top-priority health issue for the House Majority Caucus.
“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.”
The local, flexible, and responsive committees of nurses and managers at Minnesota hospitals would work together to set safe staffing levels for units in their hospitals, including setting a limit on the number of patients any one nurse is responsible for. Under the legislation, the Minnesota Department of Health would be empowered to make sure hospitals are following the staffing plans set by these new committees.
“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.”
Right now, Minnesota nurses are overworked and overwhelmed, hospitals are understaffed, and patients are overcharged by hospital executives trying to boost their bottom lines. These conditions are driving nurses away from the profession, hurting patient care. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the tragic consequences of the profit-first approach hospital executives have pursued for years.
“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.”
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 $1 million for grants to hospitals to establish new mental health programs for nurses and other health care professionals.
About the Under-Staffing and Retention Crisis
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.
“Prior to working for the Minnesota Nurses Association, I was a bedside nurse like my mother, on a cardiac telemetry and cardiac ICU unit here in the metro area. I left the bedside after only nine years because staffing was so bad,” said Carrie Mortrud, RN, MNA Nurse Staffing Specialist. “This bill creates local staffing committees at each hospital to ensure that direct care nurses are able to voice their concerns and utilize evidence-based standards, acuity, and intensity in determining the proper staffing levels for the hospital and improve patient care.”
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.
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.
- 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, 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 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 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 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 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 on nurse staffing and retention in Minnesota hospitals, the workplace environment, and ability to provide quality patient care.