Groups Form New National Nursing Association Advocating Government-Mandated Staffing Ratios
Five state nursing groups have "cut their affiliation" with the American Nurses Association and have formed the American Association of Registered Nurses, an organization that is advocating government-mandated nurse-to-patient ratios, the Knight Ridder/Tribune/Tallahassee Democrat reports. The new association is "spearheaded" by the California Nurses Association, which left the ANA in 1995 and has successfully lobbied California lawmakers to establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios at general acute care hospitals (Godinez, Knight Ridder/Tribune/Tallahassee Democrat, 3/27). California's proposed regulations, which are subject to public hearings and could be changed, would initially establish a ratio of one nurse for every six patients on general medical floors. Eighteen months after the expected July 2003 implementation of the rules, the standard would be narrowed to 1-to-5. The rules would also set a 1-to-1 ratio for nurses and patients in trauma centers, a 1-to-4 ratio for pediatric nurses and child patients and a 1-to-2 ratio for obstetric nurses and women in labor (California Healthline, 1/23). CNA President Kay McVay said, "If you don't have ratios, we'll never be able to attract people into nursing, because it's just become so difficult to be able to do your job." The AARN includes groups that represent nurses in Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri and Pennsylvania, for a total of about 70,000 members.
The ANA opposes mandatory ratios and focuses instead on improving working conditions for nurses by giving them more say in staffing decisions and budgetary needs, according to Claire Jordan, executive director of the Texas Nurses Association, which is affiliated with the ANA. In addition, opponents of mandatory nursing ratios say that such mandates would require hospitals to hire many additional employees who "simply don't exist" because of a nationwide nursing shortage. Some hospitals may try to meet the requirements by assigning nurses to areas they have not specialized in, a practice that is likely to increase medical errors, according to Sam Ruffing, vice president and chief nursing officer for Methodist Hospitals of Dallas. Ruffing said, "In the ideal world, wouldn't you just love to have only two patients? ... The bottom line is no system can afford to do that" (Knight Ridder/Tribune/Tallahassee Democrat, 3/27).