Climate Change: “Nurses are On the Move”

Climate Change: “Nurses are On the Move”

At the DC Climate Change rally: ANHE, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments at Washington DC climate rally

Just before a series of major climate change rallies were held in cities across the US, the journal Creative Nursing published a special issue on climate change. We spoke with special issue editor Katie Huffling, MS, RN, CNM and contributor/editorial board member Teddie Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN to learn more about climate change as a public health issue, and why so many nurses are attending these rallies and speaking out.

On September 20, the Washington Post interviewed them both as part of a major story on the DC climate strike. The headline was, “Why nurses, America’s most trusted professionals, are demanding ‘climate justice.’” That sounds like as good a starting point as any, so let’s begin by asking…

Why is climate change important to the mission of the health and nursing professions?

TP: In nursing we are charged to create environments for people to be the healthiest individuals and communities that they possibly can be. Climate change threatens that. It threatens our patients and communities on multiple levels. The health impacts of climate change are severe and serious, and they’re happening right now. So that why it is important for us to address this as nurses.

It’s no longer happening in some parts of the globe, or in some geographic areas; it’s happening everywhere. Unfortunately, it tends to have the greatest impact on communities that are already struggling to be healthy. If I am already challenged by being homeless, for instance, not having access to AC or heating can lead to real [health] problems, and we see people with such challenges often suffering worst and first from climate change.

And it’s important to point out that yes, the planet is warming but the impacts are very variable. Places that used to be cool are getting hot; some places that were usually dry are getting very wet. It’s the shift in patterns that has definite health consequences. In California, for instance, you might be more apt as a nurse to be aware of the impact of fires on the air quality affecting individuals and families and people who work outdoors.

But isn’t climate change a political issue? Why should nurses get actively involved?

TP: I hope we have made it very clear that climate change is not a political issue, any more than people having adequate food or clean air should be a political issue. It’s a health issue. And we need all people regardless of their political affiliation to be part of finding solutions and part of finding a healthier future for everyone.

KH: The Lancet has been publishing for the past few years an analysis of climate change and health and they are very clear that climate change is the biggest public health challenge that we face today. It’s a health issue, and the future of our children is at stake.

Are nurses already seeing health issues connected to climate change?

TP: In Minnesota, we’re seeing changes in our vectors. We see more [outbreaks of] Lyme disease and West Nile disease; we see more people affected by flooding and loss of housing and livelihoods related to flooding. Farmers can’t get their crops planted on time [owing to flooding] and they can’t get their crops harvested on time, so we’re seeing impacts in that area. Health care providers need to understand that there are things we need to be considering in order to protect our patients and teach families and to ensure that if a disaster is likely, that people have a plan. For example, we need to ask “What are you going to do when category 4 and 5 hurricanes come into your area?”

KH: One thing I would add is that no matter what type of nursing you do—whatever your patient population is—there’s some way that climate change impacts that population. For example, when you have extreme weather events, and you have renal patients, are they going to be able to get dialysis? Nurses working in that area have been real leaders in working on emergency preparedness. The same goes for oncology nurses—are your patients going to be able to get their cancer treatments in a timely fashion. There are some things when you first think of them, you don’t realize how it really does span any type of patient population.

“We need to be planning for these people.”

Teddie Potter

United Healthcare Workers East at DC Climate Change Rally.

United Healthcare Workers East at Washington DC climate rally

TP: Also, there are community nurses worrying about patients who are homebound and in need of oxygen and other things that require a steady source of electricity. We need to be planning for those people. What do you do when flood waters rise, and you can’t get out of your house because you’re wheelchair-bound? And your caregiver can’t come because they’re stuck [in the flood] where they are, and you can’t even get out of bed? All of these things have to be thought about.

KH: As an example of that, here in DC it’s gotten better because the local utilities have been addressing it, but there were lots of power outages accompanying extreme weather events during the summer. And when families with children on ventilators at home don’t have electricity for a few days, they end up having to take up an ICU bed because they’re not able to be on just a general floor.

TP: As a state that has a significant rural population, [In Minnesota] we are also concerned about people working outside who harvest and pick the crops. We’re concerned about dehydration. A while ago one of our Minnesota Vikings players died from heat exposure and dehydration at the Vikings summer training camp. This is not something that we’ve had to think about in the past. Hot and humid days can impact even young people in peak condition and we are having more and more days with high heat and humidity.

Are today’s nurses following in Florence Nightingale’s footsteps? Was she the first activist nurse?

TP: She was an activist but also a scientist. She was deeply committed to evidence-based practice and she was a brilliant statistician. She really looked at the environment as doing the healing for patients. As she said in Notes on Nursing, “medicine and surgery can remove obstructions… nature alone cures.” And she was a great believer in and taught about the importance of good food, adequate hydration, mobility, cleanly environments, and exposure to fresh air.

In the Crimean war what got her started was that they were seeing more people dying from the care they received in the hospital than from the injuries they received on the battlefield. So it was a care issue and that was what marshalled her and other women at that time to go to Turkey and set up an alternative way of caring—fresh air, clean sheets, adequate food—and people started surviving. It is deeply at the core of the nursing profession: we work with the environment to put people in a position to recover and have a quality of life. Nurses are on the move following the same principles today.

How can nurses get—and how are they getting—involved in the movement to reduce effects of climate change?

KH: I think there are a number of points of engagement. Nurses are really can-do people. When they find a problem, they want to fix it, and so when you start to learn about climate change and its effects, it is natural to immediately want to get engaged.

Healthcare workers at climate change rally in Minnesota.
Nurses and other healthcare professionals participated in Minnesota’s climate rally.

I think this is a great opportunity for nurses to get together—you know, strength in numbers—to elevate this issue and use our position as America’s most trusted profession to talk about it. Also, [it’s important to] meet with policy makers—whether it’s at the state, national, or local level—when you can speak with elected officials and help them to make that health and climate change connection. Because a lot of elected officials still don’t understand that it’s a health issue and if they want to protect the health of their constituents it’s an issue they need to be taking on.

And, it’s been very exciting to see so many nurses doing things like going to the different climate marches. It’s another way to show that nurses are leaders in the area around climate change. One of the things my organization (ANHE, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments) has been doing is we’ve created a nursing collaborative on climate change and health. This came out of a round-table we did at the White House during the Obama administration where we had around 20 nursing organizations and unions at this round table talking about what nurses can do about climate change and health. It was a really historic event. We were the first group of health professionals that they had reached out to at the time to do something like this.

After that, we decided we needed a strong collaborative effort, and that is how we created the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health. We have 11 organizations, and a couple more really large organizations about to sign on. Working together we show visible leadership among the nursing community as well as among policy makers.

Where can nurses find out more about the impact of climate change?

KH: Well, at ANHE (Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments) we have tons of resources on the website, lots of free tools for nurses to engage. We’ve got talking points, academic databases and case studies, resources for pregnant women and children, and much more.

We’re also part of the Nurses Climate Challenge, in which ANHE’s partnered with Healthcare without Harm. Basically in the Nurses Climate Challenge we have Nurse Champions that sign up on the website. The champions then go out and educate their fellow nurses and other healthcare professionals about climate change and health. They have a really robust toolkit with PowerPoints with notes and posters they can customize if they want to make a presentation at their monthly nursing meeting. Then we track each event: if someone does a presentation, they note how many attended. The first year we had a goal of 5,000 nurses and other healthcare professionals educated, but we quickly grew past that so we decided to up our goal to 50,000 nurses educated by 2022. And we just started that a few months ago, and we’re already past 10,000. It’s exponentially growing!

“It’s an amazing opportunity to prevent disease.”

Katie Huffling

I’d like to bring in another positive note: this is also the greatest opportunity that we have to impact public health. These things that we can do to affect climate change can have a widespread positive impact on health. It’s an amazing opportunity to prevent disease. And I think that that’s another core feature of nursing practice—that we want to see our patients become healthier and to not have to be treating them for these preventable illnesses. When we address climate change we can have such a positive impact on health.

TP: I’ll just add in that the dean of the Minnesota School of Nursing has appointed me the first Director of Planetary Health for the school, so that nurses can learn to apply what we do to care for the environment so that our patients and our communities will be healthier.

George Washington University Nursing School Faculty Receive $2.8M Grant to Launch Nurse Practitioner Program

George Washington University Nursing School Faculty Receive $2.8M Grant to Launch Nurse Practitioner Program

A team of nursing and medical school faculty from George Washington University (GW) have received a $2.8 million grant to launch a training program for nurse practitioner students. Funding to get the program off the ground was awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The new nurse practitioner program is called The Nurse Practitioner Technology Enhanced Community Health program. Students in the program will learn how to use telehealth technology, which is software used to provide health care information and treatment from a distance, to expand access to care in underserved populations and in rural and urban communities.

The program will be led by Christine Pintz, PhD, FNP-BC, WHNP-BC, RN, FAANP, a professor of nursing at GW, along with six professors from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Medical Faculty Associates, and the School of Nursing. This team of faculty will design and implement a curriculum focused on enhancing community health through technology.

A press release from GW Nursing states: “[Nurse practitioners] will be better able to provide high-quality care to patients in underserved communities who might have chronic health issues or lack access to care.”

To learn more about the $2.8 million granted awarded to George Washington University to launch a training program for nurse practitioner students, visit here.

George Washington University School of Nursing Launches Health Policy Degree Program

George Washington University School of Nursing Launches Health Policy Degree Program

The George Washington University School of Nursing (GW Nursing) has announced a new health policy degree program. The policy-focused doctor of nursing practice program will be offered for the first time in fall 2019. 

GW’s new 42-credit program will teach nurses how to formulate health policy solutions and influence health care policy solutions and health care policy. The goal of the program is to increase access to better and more affordable health care. 

The program will be led by Program Director David Keepnews, an expert in health policy process and influencing policy to improve quality of care, increase access, and control costs. Located in downtown Washington, DC, students will have a unique opportunity to engage with policymakers at the national level. 

Students who graduate from the doctoral program will be qualified to work for public, private, and academic organizations that handle health policy. Admissions for the fall semester are open and rolling for nursing professionals with an interest in health policy. 

Former nursing school Dean Jean Johnson tells GWHatchet.com, “There are many very serious health care issues facing our country in terms of cost, access and quality, and nurses need to bring their knowledge of population needs and effective interventions into the policy discussion to improve our health system and provide safer, higher-quality care.” 

To learn more about GW Nursing’s new health policy doctoral degree program, visit here

George Washington University School of Nursing Hires Male Faculty to Help Increase Male Student Population

George Washington University School of Nursing Hires Male Faculty to Help Increase Male Student Population

The George Washington University School of Nursing (GW Nursing) has recently employed new male nursing faculty to help serve as role models for male students. Despite a 50 percent increase in nursing faculty since 2014, the university still lags in hiring male faculty. 

In 2014, GW Nursing hired four male professors out of 55 total faculty members, and the school now employs five male professors out of 82 total faculty members. A lack of male faculty decreases male student enrollment and limits diversity, so the university has made it a goal to hire more diverse faculty, including men. 

Pamela Jeffries, dean of the GW School of Nursing, tells GWHatchet.com, “It is important that we have members of our faculty who represent that demographic to give students classroom leaders they can relate to in terms of shared personal and social constructs.” 

Hiring more male faculty gives the increasing male student population more relatable mentors in the predominantly female field. Six percent of faculty in the GW School of Nursing are male, while multiple peer institutions employ an average of 20 percent male nursing faculty. Jeffries is concerned that a low population of male nursing students will translate to a lower proportion of men in each graduating class, skewing the ratio of male to female faculty members. However, GW has a larger than average population of male nursing students that Jeffries hopes will help close the gap in their faculty population. 

Mark Tanner, assistant dean of the Bachelor of Science nursing program and an associate professor of nursing, says, “The experience of being a male in our society is inherently different than the experience of being female, so I do think that individuals who identify as male bring different worldviews to the field of nursing.”

While there are no overt barriers to men joining nursing school faculty, increasing male faculty numbers are important to remind male students that they are welcome in the female-dominated field. To learn more about how GW Nursing plans to increase the number of male nursing students by hiring more male nursing faculty, visit here

New Safe Staffing Legislation Introduced to Congress

New Safe Staffing Legislation Introduced to Congress

On February 15, 2018, the newest safe nurse staffing bill was introduced to the U.S. Congress. The bill (H.R.5052 and S.2446) has bipartisan support, and is championed by Reps. David Joyce (R-OH), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), as well as Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

In the past, several safe staffing bills have been presented in previous Congresses but have failed to pass committee. This bill, the Safe Staffing for Nurse and Patient Safety Act of 2018, is slightly different than previous iterations. Under this staffing legislation, Medicare-participating hospitals would be required to form committees that would create and implement unit specific, nurse-to-patient ratio staffing plans. At least half of each committee must comprise direct care nurses.

“It is so important for nurses on the front lines to be able to have a say in what they believe is safe staffing,” says Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, the president of the American Nurses Association (ANA). “This bill benefits bedside nurses by giving them decision-making power, control, and the ability to influence the delivery of safe care,” Cipriano continues.

A committee made of staff nurses—who would make staffing decisions that directly affect their own units—is so important because it is nurses who can best assess patient needs and the resources required to provide safe patient care. Staffing committees would be able to address the unique needs of specific units and patient populations by involving specialty nurses in the decisions, and would have the ability to modify the hospital safety plans as needed.

Overwhelmingly, research supports adequate nurse staffing. Over the last several decades, literature has demonstrated a decrease in patient morbidity and mortality and an increase in patient safety when units are well staffed. “With adequate amounts of staffing we see mortality go down and patient complications can be prevented or diminished,” Cipriano says. “It is important for nurses to have sufficient resources to care for patients, because nurses experience moral distress when they cannot provide the care they know a patient needs.”

Short-changing patients also contributes to nurse burnout, and low nursing retention is expensive. Additionally, adequate nurse staffing leads to reduced health care costs, as a result of fewer hospital readmissions, hospital-acquired infections, medical errors, and other significant measurable patient outcomes. “Patients deserve to have the right care,” Cipriano says. “They need to be kept safe, and the best way to prevent problems and complications is to have the right nurse staffing.”

Is there hope that this bill will pass, when so many previous iterations have not? “It may be difficult to pass the legislation, even this time around,” Cipriano admits. “But the most important impact is that every time we have an opportunity to have this legislation discussed, it’s another opportunity to educate another decision maker. Whether it is congresspeople, their staff, or other leaders in their communities, it gives us the opportunity to continue to reinforce why it is so important to have the right nursing care.”

It is ethically challenging when a nurse is asked to take staffing assignments that do not feel safe. On many units, nurses are expected to care for several acute and critically ill patients at a time, and are given patient loads that stretch them far beyond their reasonable care delivery capabilities. What should a nurse do when faced with an unsafe assignment? Nurses should raise immediate concerns by following the chain of command, and talking with immediate supervisors to express that they believe the situation is unsafe. “The first obligation is to make sure that no patient is left uncared for,” Cipriano says. “Short term, use the chain of command and do everything you can within in your power to make sure that you’re providing at least the minimum care the patient needs.” Longer-term, if nurses truly believe that their organization is not supporting the right staffing ratios, the ANA encourages an active dialogue with leadership, such as a conversation with responsible nursing leaders, quality directors, or patient care committees or councils to focus attention to the issue.

“Nursing care is like a medication,” Cipriano says. “You wouldn’t withhold a life-saving medication, so why would you withhold the right amount or right dose of nursing care?”

If you are passionate about safe staffing laws, consider calling or writing your congressperson and encourage them to support the Safe Staffing for Nurse and Patient Safety Act of 2018.

NursesTakeDC Rally Raises Awareness of Safe Staffing Ratios

NursesTakeDC Rally Raises Awareness of Safe Staffing Ratios

Stethoscopes dangled around the necks of nurses wearing navy NursesTakeDC t-shirts and big smiles. “Where are y’all from? We’re from Arizona!” More than 800 nurses from 40 U.S. states congregated at the NursesTakeDC Rally on May 5th in Washington, DC. The rally was to support legislation establishing federally mandated requirements for safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, while drawing public attention to the staffing crisis in many U.S. hospitals. This was the second such rally; last May, the inaugural event drew about 250 participants to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

The rally was cosponsored by the grassroots nursing movement Show Me Your Stethoscope, a group that formed spontaneously on Facebook after nurse Janie Harvey Garner watched The View host Joy Behar ask why a nurse in the Miss America pageant was wearing “a doctor’s stethoscope” around her neck. That group now has more than 650,000 members. Other rally sponsors and supporters included the Illinois Nurses Association, Hirenurses.com, Nursebuzz, The Gypsy Nurse, Century Health Services, and UAW Local 2213 Professional Registered Nurses.

The NursesTakeDC rally was originally scheduled to take place on the steps of the Capitol, but thunderstorms and downpours forced the meeting indoors at a hotel in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. Although the setting lacked symbolism, participants still raised handmade posters and shouted rally cries. Rally organizers estimated the weather had an impact on overall attendance, but they were still encouraged by the turnout. After the speakers wrapped up, a group of about 150 nurses headed to the U.S. Capitol steps for photographs and final thoughts.

NursesTakeDC

© 2017 David Miller, RN

Two, Four, Six, Eight, Patient Safety Isn’t Fake

“We aren’t laughing, we want staffing!” Cheers and whistles erupted out of the crowd. After 10 minutes of rally cheers and chants, the gathering turned its attention to the first of many speakers who would highlight issues faced by nurses in every specialty and across the profession. Actress Brooke Anne Smith began by reciting a moving poem about nurse warriors on the front lines.

Event organizer Jalil Johnson then took the stage, giving a keynote speech that addressed the challenges bedside nurses face every day. He spoke about nurses as the foundation of health care, and the unrelenting pressure to perform in deteriorating conditions. While discussing dire staffing situations, Johnson said that he fought every day, “making sure I didn’t give anyone a reason to come after the license I had worked so hard for.”

He discussed the paradox that year after year, nurses are rated the most trusted profession, yet no one trusts nurses when they say they are overworked, overburdened, and practicing in unsafe conditions. Nurses alone are not enough to fight this battle, he said. “To the public, we say: Trust us when we say the industry makes it nearly impossible to deliver the care you need. Trust us when we say we need your support.”

Other NursesTakeDC rally speakers included Katie Duke, Terry Foster, Deena McCollum, Linda Boly, Julie Murray, Catherine Costello, Kelsey Rowell, Leslie Silket, Dan Walter, Nicole Reina, Monique Doughty, Doris Carroll, Charlene Harrod-Owuamana, Debbie Hickman, and Janie Harvey Garner.  

The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act

On May 4th, the day before the rally, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced the latest iterations of the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (H.R. 2392 and S. 1063). The bills seek to amend the Public Health Service Act to establish registered nurse-to-patient staffing ratio requirements in hospitals.

In a press release, Rep. Schakowsky’s office writes: “This bill is about saving lives and improving the health of patients by improving nursing care—ensuring that there are adequate numbers of qualified nurses available to provide the highest possible care.” The press release acknowledges that study after study has shown that safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios result in better care for patients. “It’s time we act on the evidence and the demands of nurses who have been fighting to end to dangerous staffing,” the release continues. “I’m proud to be a partner with nurses across the country in promoting this bill and working to ensure quality care and patient safety.”

Rep. Schakowksy attended last year’s event, but was unable to attend this year. The Nurse Staffing Standards Act is the latest in a string of bills that have been introduced to Congress every session. Previous bills S. 864 and H.R.1602 died in committee last session. S. 864 was first introduced in May of 2009; H.R. 1602 was first introduced in 2004 and has been sponsored seven times so far. Rally co-chair Doris Carroll explained why: “The legislation is reintroduced session after session, and it continues to die in committee because there is no bipartisan support.”

In today’s environment, politics can be touchy. The day before the rally, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act of 2017. Among nurses there are very polarized viewpoints on health care, abortion, assisted suicide, and other controversial topics. In his speech, Johnson acknowledged that not all nurses think alike. “We are a profession divided,” he admitted. “But when it comes to safe staffing, we all agree. This is a movement devoid of partisanship. Staffing is not a partisan issue.”

The proposed text and ratios for the Nurse Staffing Standards Act are below:

A hospital would be required during each shift, except during a declared emergency, to assign a direct care registered nurse to no more than the following number of patients in designated units:

1 patient in an operating room and trauma emergency unit
2 patients in all critical care units, intensive care, labor and delivery, and post anesthesia units
3 patients in antepartum, emergency, pediatrics, step-down, and telemetry units
4 patients in intermediate care nursery, medical/surgical, and acute care psychiatric care units
5 patients in rehabilitation units
6 patients in postpartum (3 couplets) and well-baby nursery units

Rally speakers encouraged nurses to reach out to their representatives in Congress to show support for safe staffing legislation, and handouts for participants detailed how to find representative names and numbers for letter writing campaigns and phone calls.  

Where Is Everybody?

When one of the speakers asked why there wasn’t more involvement in the grassroots movement, and why there weren’t more nurses present, several voices called back from the crowd. “Everyone’s working!” one shouted. Another called out, “They don’t have the money!”

“Really, where the heck is everybody else?” one rally participant said. She gestured to the conference room, which at the time held about 100 nurses. This nurse was part of a group attending from New Jersey, including Kate McLaughlin, a registered nurse and founder of NJ Safe Patient Ratios, a group dedicated to the support of safe staffing in New Jersey and promotion of ratio law S. 1280 in New Jersey’s Senate.

“In New Jersey, multiple bills have been introduced, every single session, and nothing ever passes,” McLaughlin said. “In California it was the same thing, and then the tenth year, they involved unions and patients and it finally worked.” She said she started to pay attention to safe staffing laws in her state, and launched a petition on change.org. “I stalked nurses on Facebook and found people that way,” she continued. “Each week, we organize and post the contact information for two state senators.” She is starting a movement in New Jersey, hoping to motivate others to show support for these bills. “It’s an election year,” she said. “Now is the time.”

McLaughlin said her state’s ratio law was first introduced in February 2016, but there has been no vote and no hearings, “which just feels disrespectful.” She was told the governor didn’t support the bill, and “that we might need to wait until there’s a new governor.”

The problem, according to several nurses at the rally, isn’t a lack of awareness. “I think it’s apathy,” McLaughlin said. “This is a profession of predominantly women, and we are taken advantage of. They know we don’t get breaks, but they’re okay with the labor law violations. We’ve somehow accepted that this is normal—this is not normal.”

Carroll also expressed discontent that no one seems to care about this issue. “Why has this taken so long? Why hasn’t California’s success spread like wildfire?” she asked. “Well, health care changed, and it became a multi-billion dollar business for hospitals and insurance companies.”

Dan Walter, another speaker, acknowledged that sometimes nurses do not report safety issues because they fear retribution. Walter is a former political consultant and publisher of HospitalSafetyReviews.com, a web site that he established for nurses to anonymously post about patient safety issues where they work. In his speech, he explained the inspiration for creating the site: “You are the activists and you know what needs to be done. I want people to be able to go there, post, and we will keep it as anonymous as possible so we can protect you.” He expressed hope that this web site will be a powerful platform to improve patient ratios.

How Bad Is Staffing?

Nurses from a hospital in downtown Washington, DC, expressed frustration with the lack of support and resources from hospital administrators. “The other day, we had so many critical patients in the department we ran out of monitors,” one said. Another said that 80% of the nurses who work in her hospital’s emergency department have less than two years’ experience. “The turnover is so high,” she said. “People get so burned out because of the short staffing.”

Just how short are units staffed? “In our ED [emergency department], someone the other night was taking care of seven patients,” one nurse from this group said. “And these were sick patients, people with LVADs [left ventricular assist devices], and ICU patients.” This is common all over the country. A medical-surgical nurse may be taking care of up to eight or more patients at a time.

Llubia Albrechtsen, a registered nurse and family nurse practitioner at the rally, said there have been times she has refused to take on additional patients in the emergency department where she works. “When I have five patients, I need to take a step back and pay more attention, because their conditions may worsen,” she said. “It’s hard, because we could be providing excellent care to many of our patients, but with limited resources we have to do the best we can and hope nothing bad happens.”

Albrechtsen said that although hospital administration makes an effort to listen to nurse concerns about staffing, through town halls or open meetings, not much has changed. “Many areas still work understaffed,” she said.

Why Does Staffing Matter?

A policy brief disseminated at the rally lists the effects of inadequate nurse staffing, including the overwhelming evidence that safe staffing saves lives. High patient-to-nurse ratios lead to poor outcomes and a demonstrated increase in patient morbidity and mortality. Inadequate staffing has been associated with an increase in hospital readmissions, falls, pressure ulcers, hospital-acquired infections, and medication errors.

Poor staffing is expensive. In addition to causing poor patient outcomes, nurse burnout causes injuries, illness, and contributes to the growing nursing shortage. Replacing nurses due to turnover takes between 28 to 110 days, and costs the average hospital $6.2 million per year.

“The health care industry generates $3 trillion annually,” Johnson said in his address. “We are living in an age of greed, where the health care industry measures patient satisfaction by a customer service model. This is prioritized over quality and safety. Reducing burnout, staff retention, and caring for your staff are at the bottom of the barrel of priorities.”

What’s Next?

The grassroots movement behind safe staffing is fighting for environments that allow nurses to do their work in the way in which they were trained. “[A nurse’s] work has been diminished to defensive practices; it has been reduced to a list of tasks to complete,” Johnson said. “That is not nursing.”

In Johnson’s final remarks, he spoke to empower nurses to return to their states, hospitals, and colleagues with a message to inspire change. “We have to show up in person, put boots on the ground, and be ready to engage and pull more nurses into this movement,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, we have to believe that with over 3 million registered nurses and over 1 million licensed practical nurses, our profession can come together as one. We will take back our profession and regain control of our practice.”

Another rally is already in the works for next year. The organizers of NursesTakeDC will now direct their focus toward supporting any state that has pending policy and legislation aimed at improving nurse-to-patient ratios and safe staffing. Organizer Carroll said that this year is a learning curve for the organizers, and they hope that next year they will have something even better with an even bigger audience.

“We encourage all nurses, practicing at all levels and in all settings, to unify and support beside nurses in the fight for safe staffing,” said Johnson to a room full of applause and cheers. “We fight for recognition—we will not justify our existence! There is no health care industry without us, and we will determine what is best for our practice and for our patients.”

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