Florida Lawmakers Propose Nurse-Staffing Laws

By Christina Orlovsky, senior staff writer

Mirroring recent California legislation on nurse-staffing, several Florida policymakers have proposed bills setting strict nurse-to-patient ratio laws in Florida’s health care facilities. Unlike California, however, where nurses have spoken loudly in favor of ratios, nurses in Florida are on both sides of the fence.

Florida House Bill 1117 proposes the creation of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which requires ratio limits on nursing units, including critical care units (a 1:2 nurse-to-patient ratio), labor/delivery units (1:2), emergency departments (1:3) and step-down units (1:3). The largest department, medical/surgical, would require a one nurse-to-four patient ratio at all times.

The related Senate Bill 1176 also refers to the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act and aims to prescribe staffing standards for health care facilities. Both bills, which also have provisions banning mandatory overtime, were filed in Feb. 2005 and have been passed on to the health committee.

Lobbying strongly for these bills is the Nurse Alliance of Florida, a labor union with several thousand nurse members in south Florida. Maria Sanchez, RN, a member of the alliance, explained that staffing ratios are crucial to patient safety, nurse satisfaction and hospital costs.

“It is a win-win situation,” Sanchez said. “We believe ratios will save patients lives, save nurses at the bedside who will stay in their position because their situations will improve, and save money for the hospitals. All studies have shown that while hospital operational costs may increase because of hiring more nurses, profits do not decrease at all.”

While some nurses are in support of the ratio laws, others feel they are not only unnecessary to the workplace, but also unwelcome to the profession.

The Florida Nurses Association (FNA) is one group that is in opposition, according to Barbara Lumpkin, RN, FNA associate executive director.

“First of all, it is a nursing judgment to decide what care patients need,” Lumpkin said. “Second, ratios make all nurses the same. Every nurse, no matter how much experience or schooling she has, becomes a number. It’s demeaning to the profession, and when you put numbers on units, there’s no flexibility. It ties the hands of the nurses themselves.”

While Lumpkin agreed that there are things that need to be done to improve the practice, she insisted that there are better solutions than mandatory staffing ratios.

Still, she added that the two bills, which she said are very similar to the ones recently approved in California, are unlikely to achieve the same fate in the Sunshine State.

“I think the chances of them passing in Florida are nil to none,” she said.

Whether the bills pass or not, Sanchez said the Nurse Alliance will continue to fight for staffing ratios and explained that they have already had success in having their voices heard.

“I don’t know that we’ll be successful this time around, but we are making in-roads with the bills being heard at the health committee,” she said. “Most bills don’t make it there.”


Florida Nurses Association

Florida Legislature

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