Have you ever worked with a heavy, unsafe patient load due to understaffing on the unit and having double the recommended number of patients under your care? I am sure it left you felt defeated after your twelve-hour shift.

Nurse ratios are constantly changing depending on the number of staff members. When a nurse has too many patients to care for it compromises patient care. Hospitals strive for patient-centered care, but it is not obtained with unsafe ratios. A high ratio of patients to nurses actively jeopardizes the quality of patient care in hospitals. It also endangers the health of nurses who are being overworked and have high levels of stress.

Now more than ever with the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are leaving the bedside due to burnout, PTSD and feeling unappreciated. Wouldn’t more nurses stay at the bedside and encourage others to pursue nursing if we had safe staffing ratios?

Intensive care is a high-acuity specialized area that demands qualified and competent nurses. The ICU typically sees high levels of nurse turnover because of its high acuity and stress level, and it is a prerequisite to other job titles. Unfortunately, increased turnover creates nursing shortages that significantly impact not only staff but also patients. A 2008 study, “The Effects of Nurse Staffing Patterns on Medical Errors and Nurse Burnout,” provides a thorough evaluation and analysis of the patient-to-nurse staffing ratio in the United States. After examining nurses’ work patterns at a sampling of hospitals in major metropolitan areas in the United States, the paper concludes that American nurses generally have an “unrealistic workload.”

Being part of speaking up is vital to achieving the change we are looking for as nurses. Hospitals focus on the most cost-effective way of doing things to prevent spending excess money. When nurses leave, the new nurses hired make the hospitals spend more money on training than if they kept their senior staff. Nursing shortages also account for many medication errors. Hospitals will have to spend more money due to their tired, understaffed nurses making med errors that could cost a patient their life.

In 2019, congress introduced the Nurse Staffing Standard for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. The bill advocated for a standard nurse-to-patient ratio requirement. Some examples include medical-surgical floors being 1:4 and intensive care units being 1:1. Trust me; I know some may be reading this right now and laughing at how inaccurate these numbers are in the real nursing world.

Isn’t it funny how there is a policy against a nurse making too much overtime in a pay period, but there doesn’t seem to be a policy that is followed on what is and is not okay with staffing ratios?

This is our time as bedside nurses to stand up for what we believe in. Being involved in committees and making our voice heard can make a difference. We deserve safe nursing ratios, and our patients deserve the best quality care.

We do not want pizza parties. We do not want to be called heroes. We want safe staffing ratios. We want to protect our patients; assure they receive quality care. We want to protect our nurses, not cause them to be irritable, depressed, looking to change careers, and leaving the bedside due to nursing burnout. Help make the change, speak up, be a part of the change, and make your voice heard within the hospital, reach out to the administration and Congress.

Stephanie Fernandes is a registered nurse residing in Shelton.