Letter: Don't legislate nursing ratios

To the Editor:

Every hour, every day, your local hospitals provide lifesaving care to everyone who comes through their doors. However, state lawmakers in Springfield are considering a proposal – House Bill 2604 – that would take away the ability of your local hospitals and health care professionals to decide how best to care for their patients and keep health care close to home, where it should be.

This proposal – “mandatory nurse staffing ratios” – would dictate exactly how many patients an individual nurse can serve at any given time at every hospital in the state. This rigid, one-size-fits-all approach ignores the seriousness of each patient’s injury or illness and the skills, specialized training and experience of each nurse in a hospital unit.

The number and types of patients, and their conditions, change quickly in hospitals. Local health care professionals need the flexibility to react and adjust to properly staff the emergency room and hospital units. The delivery of health care should not be boiled down to a simple set of numbers.

While supporters of ratios say it will help patients, it will do the opposite. Hospitals will have to lay off key support staff and reduce services. At critically busy times, when your local hospitals are needed most, they will be forced to divert patients farther away to other hospitals to comply with the ratio mandate.

If this proposal passes, Illinois does not have enough nurses to meet the ratios. The state already has a shortage of 21,000 nurses, and one-third of registered nurses plan to retire within the next five years.

In the past 20 years, only one state in the country, California, has adopted nurse staffing ratios. After many studies on the experience in California, there is no conclusive evidence that ratios improve quality or patient outcomes.

On behalf of the more than 200 hospitals and health systems across the state, the Illinois Health and Hospital Association urges the General Assembly to reject House Bill 2604 or any other legislative proposal that would impose nurse staffing ratios. It’s not good for patients or for health care.

A.J. Wilhelmi

Illinois Health and Hospital Association president and CEO