New guidelines by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are implementing a waiver to the state’s nurse-to-patient ratio law. This means that hospital administrators can claim to the CDPH that they are unable to properly staff the hospitals, and therefore need to increase the patient load for nurses. The increase in patients would include, for example: an increase from two to three patients per nurse in Intensive Care Units (ICUs), and an increase from five to seven patients per nurse in Medical Surgical Units, and similarly in other units! Many hospitals, including Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, have already been granted this waiver, prompting dozens of nurses to come out and demonstrate against this new rule.
To decrease the nurse-to-patient ratio is not only extremely dangerous for both nurses and patients, but it is in no way a solution to the chronic problem of understaffing that has only been made worse by the pandemic. The nurse-to-patient ratio law was passed in California in 2004, making it the only state to have such a law. The law not only improved the problem of understaffing by increasing nursing employment by 15 percent, and decreased the rate of occupational injury and illness by 30 percent, it also reduced patient mortality and allowed nurses to provide better patient care!
The answer to the problem of understaffing will never be to increase the workload of those already stretched thin; it never has been, and it never will be. There are currently thousands of nurses with all ranges of experience applying for jobs, especially for jobs in the highest paid region of the country: the San Francisco Bay Area. There is absolutely no excuse not to hire the number of nurses necessary to provide safe care. The idea of increasing the workload for the already overextended and overworked nurses is not just stupid; it is deadly.