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If you have ever been admitted to the hospital, you’ve probably realized how important your nurse was to your treatment. Nurses fulfill many roles for their patients, including patient advocate, skilled provider, communicator, coordinator, teacher and supporter. They are the backbone of the American healthcare system. A nurse is often the first face a patient sees upon admission to the hospital and may even be the last person to hold a dying patient’s hand. In January 2022, nursing was ranked the most honest and ethical profession by 81% of Americans for the 20th consecutive year of Gallup’s annual poll. Nurses are understood to be helpers who have ushered patients and communities through some of the most challenging times. Right now, however, nurses are experiencing a crisis and may need your help for a change.

Nurses throughout Michigan are raising concerns that being forced to take care of too many patients is jeopardizing patient care quality and safety and leading to nurses themselves becoming mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted by their work — a condition known as burnout. Four nurses employed at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit filed whistleblower lawsuits against Tenet Healthcare (the for-profit, Texas-based owner of the Detroit Medical Center, which runs Sinai-Grace) in June 2020, citing wrongful termination by the hospital after they had alerted state authorities of safety concerns, including poor staffing conditions that led to unnecessary patient deaths. Thousands of protesting nurses marched to the White House on May 12, 2022, warning of dangerous nurse-to-patient staffing ratios that prioritize profits over patient care and demanding healthcare reforms, including safe staffing ratios and safer work environments. In June 2022, nurses at the University of Michigan marched in protest of short staffing, unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios and brutal work schedules that created impossible working conditions at Michigan Medicine. We need to protect nurses and, by doing so, prevent these unnecessarily unsafe conditions from potentially affecting you or your loved ones in the future.

To alleviate these issues, the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) has proposed the Safe Patient Care Act which would limit nurse-to-patient ratios by unit-specific standards, limit forced overtime and mandate hospital transparency on existing nurse-to-patient ratios in the state of Michigan. To protect Michigan nurses and patients, Michigan policymakers should approve the Safe Patient Care Act. 

Mandating safe staffing ratios have been shown to decrease the rate of deaths in the hospital, decrease nursing burnout and turnover and decrease overall healthcare costs. The relationship between appropriate nursing staff and patient outcomes is well established. Improving staffing ratios has been shown to decrease the risk of complications and shorten the length of time spent in the hospital. When adequately supported by safe staffing conditions, nurses report less burnout, better job satisfaction, improved perception of where they work and less intent to quit. These improvements would reduce costs for hospitals. It is estimated that safe staffing ratios could save hospitals up to $117 million. 

It is obvious that there are some barriers to the initial implementation of mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. One such barrier pertains to the current nursing shortage, as mandating staffing ratios could require hospitals to hire more nurses with a lower level of education. Another possible barrier could be the initial investment that is necessary to employ more nurses. Despite these potential barriers, we feel that now is not the time to make establishing mandated safe staffing ratios a political and financial game. The healthcare system must stop prioritizing money over the quality of life for patients and nurses alike.

Michigan citizens should advocate for the Safe Patient Care Act, which would require Michigan hospitals to set a mandatory minimum safe nurse staffing level based on national, evidence-based standards. Safe staffing ratios must be mandated in Michigan to create an environment in which patients receive the quality of care they deserve, enable nurses to maintain their mental and physical health, and preserve a nurse’s capacity to deliver optimal care. This would ensure Michigan nurses are well supported and enabled to provide the best possible care for us or our loved ones who require healthcare treatment.

Joshua Ayres, Peter Galea and Kathryn Van’t Hof are student registered nurse anesthetists at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan.