ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers are looking for more ways to cure the crisis in nursing since passing two laws advocated by the Maryland Commission on the Crisis in Nursing in 2000.
Delegate Veronica Turner, D-Prince George’s, said she will introduce legislation next week limiting the number of hospital patients each nurse may care for simultaneously. Turner, a member of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, said she believes reducing the ratio would improve patient care and improve workplace conditions for hospital nurses.
“Staffing is horrible,” Turner said. “Changes need to be made.”
Turner’s bill would be similar to a California law passed in 2003 capping a nurse at a hospital ward’s patient load at six. It’s since been lowered to five.
Nurses have embraced the law.
Mary Emma Middleton, an oncology nurse practitioner at Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, recalled working at a Washington, D.C., hospital earlier in her career monitoring seven patients at once.
“The potential for error was great,” she said. “It was a balancing act because there was so much that had to be done and so little time to get it done.”
Middleton, who has worked in nursing since 1965, said similar situations drive nurses out of hospitals or out of the field altogether.
“Why do you think,” she added, “so many nurses are going back for advanced degrees?”
Critics of the staff ratio limit say it’s expensive for hospitals and widens the shortage by forcing them to hire more nurses. That’s true in the short-term, Middleton said, but eventually the limit will keep more nurses active. Short term, hospitals could employ qualified assistants to do much of the work nurses now do, she said.
Turner, who has worked in hospitals for 27 years, said her bill would increase nurse retention, improve working conditions and enhance recruiting and training.
Other new legislation designed to help nurses may be based on past laws. Delegate Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, said the House health committee may re-examine a 2002 law forbidding employers from disciplining health care workers who blow the whistle on unlawful practices.
During testimony to the committee on Thursday, Donna Dorsey, executive director of the Maryland Board of Nursing, noted there have been no reports of nurse workplace complaints.
This, Mandel said, is likely because of a clause in the law that mandates they notify supervisors of the problem before blowing the whistle.
They don’t do so, Mandel said, because “it is assumed employees still fear the loss of employment.”
Lawmakers also could re-examine a 2002 Senate law prohibiting supervisors from making nurses work unscheduled overtime.