Nurses Secure Major Victory as Pennsylvania House Advances Patient Safety Act

Pennsylvania nurses celebrate with House Health Committee Chairman Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, June 7, 2023, after the committee passed the Patient Safety Act. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

June 8, 2023

The House Health Committee passed the Patient Safety Act, which would mandate safe staffing ratios in hospitals across Pennsylvania. Nurses celebrated this first important step after spending decades advocating for this legislation. A full floor vote is expected in the coming weeks.

The Patient Safety Act is an idea whose time has finally come in Harrisburg. 

Nurses from across Pennsylvania packed a House Health Committee meeting on Tuesday and cheered as the bill — which establishes safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios — passed out of committee after it faced decades of opposition from hospitals and the trade associations that represent them.  

House Bill 106 would require hospital units to meet specific staffing ratios based on the level of care they provide. For example, the bill states that an emergency room nurse could be assigned to no more than four patients or one trauma patient at a time, while nurses in intensive care units could only care for up to two patients at a time. 

Lyn Musser, a registered nurse from McKeesport, followed the vote outside the committee room — which was over capacity — by listening to it on her phone. She was emotional after the bill passed. Musser has been a nurse for 41 years and has been advocating for safe staffing ratios for 30 of those years.

“Patients are dying because there are not enough nurses to notice there is something going wrong.” she said.

That could finally change, however, as the bill is expected to have a full House vote in the coming weeks.

SEIU Healthcare PA and PASNAP (Pennsylvania Association of Staff and Allied Professionals) are the two major healthcare unions that have pursued House Bill 106 in previous legislative sessions. The bill has bipartisan support in the Pennsylvania House with 115 members signing on as cosponsors, but advanced out of committee by a party-line vote. 

Rep. Thomas Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) has been a leading advocate for the Patient Safety Act since getting elected in 2016, and was joined by Reps. Bridget Kosierowski (D-Lackawanna), a former nurse, and K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bucks) as main cosponsors.  

Former House Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) never brought the legislation up for a vote during her time as the committee chair. In 2022, Rapp told her hometown newspaper, The Times Observer, that “unless moved elsewhere [the bill] is not going to be passed in the Health Committee.” 

The bill’s prospects changed, however, after Democrats captured control of the state House last November for the first since 2009.  

During the committee hearing, Tomlinson read a short statement prepared by her sister about what it is like spending a day as an emergency room nurse. Her sister’s statement recounted taking care of four patients that needed lifesaving care all at the same time.  

“I would ask you all to imagine that for one minute. All of those patients, they need lifesaving care all at the same time,” the statement read. “It is impossible to prioritize that as a nurse.”

Rep. La’Tasha Mayes (D-Allegheny) opened her remarks by thanking Michelle Boyle, a nurse from her district who was in the room waiting for the vote to finally happen. 

“[Boyle] works tirelessly for her patients. She works tirelessly for her family and for our community and I just want to thank her,” Mayes said. “She inspires me to do the work, continue the work that I’m doing.”

Boyle, who’s worked as a nurse for almost 30 years and has spent 15 years advocating for safe staffing ratios, welled up with emotion as Mayes thanked her for her work.  

Mayes’ comments “just brought together all those years that we’ve been fighting for this. All these years we want to provide the best care that we can for our patients and we came into nursing knowing it would be stressful and we accepted that,” Boyle said following the vote. “And the conditions over nearly three decades have gone from stressful to traumatic.”

The nurses gathered in the rotunda of the Ryan Office Building following the vote and were waiting to greet legislators as they were leaving the room.

House Health Chair Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) responded to a video of the cheering nurses on Twitter, writing: “I’ve walked down these steps thousands of times and this was the best one. In all seriousness, we must take care of our PA nurses, so they can take care of us.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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