Pennsylvania Nurses Demand Lawmakers Vote on Safe Staffing Ratios to Save Lives

Photo: Sean Kitchen: Michelle Boyle, a registered nurse from Pittsburgh, speaking at a Patient Safety Act press conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol on June 21, 2023

By Sean Kitchen

June 23, 2023

The Patient Safety Act would require hospital units to meet specific staffing ratios based on the level of care they provide. The bill would require that an ER nurse could have no more than four patients or one trauma patient at a time, and nurses in ICUs could only have two patients at a time.  

Around 100 Pennsylvanians die each month due to unsafe staffing ratios in hospitals across the commonwealth. 

That’s the statistic former nurse and current State Rep. Tarik Khan (D-Philadelphia) highlighted at a press conference on Wednesday, where he advocated for the Patient Safety Act.

The Patient Safety Act—also known as House Bill 106—would require hospital units to meet specific staffing ratios based on the level of care they provide. The bill would require that an emergency room nurse could have no more than four patients or one trauma patient at a time, and nurses in intensive care units could only have two patients at a time.  

”The research shows that safe staffing standards save lives,” Khan said at the press conference. 

Nurses have spent the previous two weeks lobbying for a vote on the House floor before the legislature departs for the summer. The Patient Safety Act advanced out of the House Health Committee earlier this month. It was the first time safe staffing ratios advanced out of a committee in decades. 

Michelle Boyle, who has worked as a nurse for almost 30 years and has spent 15 of those years advocating for safe staffing ratios, also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference and addressed how safe staffing ratios will bring nurses back into the hospitals amid a growing shortage

“It’s not just retired nurses—it’s not people who took an early retirement—that are going to be coming back,” Boyle said. “It is nurses who are working as bartenders because they get treated better as bartenders than they do as nurses.

“I was expecting a stressful job. I was not expecting traumatic conditions,” Boyle added. “I expected the stress of my job [to be] that I can get to my patients in time to help them, to save them, to see these signs early that we’re calling a rapid instead of a code. That’s what I expected, and I expected to be able to look family members in the eye and say ‘I did everything I could.’”

Instead, the shortage of nurses, unsafe staffing ratios, and the stress of the pandemic made it much harder for Boyle to do her job and has led to trauma. 

Khan expressed similar sentiments in an interview after the press conference. 

“As a nurse, a lot of times I felt like I needed two of me to get my job done safely, and there is so much that is being asked of our nurses, especially when you’re short [staffed] and when you’re working short [staffed], it can be a dangerous situation.”

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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