Illinois House Bill Fails to Gain Traction as to Nurse-Staffing Ratios in Hospitals

A proposed Illinois law would limit the number of patients each hospital nurse would be allowed to care for at one time. The proposed legislation was based on a national survey, which suggested that such a rule would lead to better working conditions for nurses and would benefit patient care.

However, Illinois’ leading hospital lobbying group remained solidly opposed to the idea, arguing it would result in the closure of many hospitals, especially in less populated rural areas, and would accelerate the already rising costs of healthcare.

The survey was conducted in 2018 by the group Nurses Take DC, a national organization that lobbies for stricter nurse-to-patient ratios.

Two Illinois-based organizations, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois’ Project for Middle Class Renewal, then took the results of that survey and produced a report on the differences between Illinois and California, which so far is the only state to impose nurse-to-patient ratio limits.

“By reducing patient-to-nurse ratios, enacting a safe patient limits law in Illinois could improve occupational safety, increase nurse retention rates and promote better health outcomes for patients and have little to no negative impact on the financial performance of Illinois hospitals,” the Illinois groups said in their report.

The survey found only 29% of Illinois nurses who responded to the national survey indicated their hospital has such a committee where hospitals are required to have a written plan based on the recommendations of one or more nursing care committees.

In addition, the survey found that Illinois nurses, on average, are responsible for 5.2 patients at a time, compared to 4.3 patients in California, and that only 18% of Illinois nurses consider the nurse-patient ratio to be “safe,” compared to 40% in California.

The authors of the report in Illinois said that stretching a nursing staff too thin can create workplace stress, which ultimately results in higher turnover rates, compounding the state’s already-existing nursing shortage.

“Illinois nurses suffer from over-exertion, sprains, workplace violence, sexual harassment and other on-the-job risks,” Frank Manzo, policy director at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, said in an interview. “And studies have shown that the best way to retain these professional workers is to either pay them competitive salaries for which they’re willing to take on those occupational hazards or to promote safe staffing standards that reduce those hazards while improving patient outcomes.”

The Illinois house bill that would have imposed minimum nurse staffing levels for hospitals was debated in the Illinois House Committee earlier this year. House Bill 2604, which was sponsored by Rep. Fred Crespo, was passed on to the Labor and Commerce Committee in March 2019 but was never voted on by the full House. The fact that the bill was never brought to the House can be attributed in part to the strong opposition to the proposed bill by the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, which argued against the bill.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association said in a separate interview that 33 California hospitals closed in the first seven years after the bill was passed in 2004 while other hospitals were forced to reduce services and other non-nursing staff. He said the results would be “devastating” for rural hospitals in Illinois, many of which are already struggling financially.

However, the biggest issue, he said, is that Illinois already is experiencing a nursing shortage, which is projected at just under 21,000 nurses in 2020. That shortage is predicted to get worse over the next five years when one-third of the existing nursing staff is expected to retire.

One way it was said to reduce the nursing shortage would be to allow for a multi-state agreement that would make it easier for nurses from other states to obtain an Illinois nursing license. Unions in Illinois have opposed such an agreement in the past.

Although the staffing ratio bill stalled in the Illinois House during the regular session in the spring, it is still alive for the upcoming veto session or the 2020 session.

Illinois House Bill 2604, sponsored by Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical negligence lawsuits, nursing negligence cases, hospital negligence lawsuits and wrongful death cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Hoffman Estates, Long Grove, Evanston, Skokie, Des Plaines, Morton Grove, Park Ridge, Highland Park, Highwood, Gurnee, Lake Zurich, Crystal Lake, Chicago (Mount Greenwood, Lake Calumet, Austin, Wicker Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, Lincoln Park, Old Town, Ravenswood Manor, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Wrigleyville), Crestwood, Park Forest, Forest Park, Hinsdale, Hillside, Elmwood Park and Melrose Park, Ill.

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