Legislation Aims to Regulate Nurse-to-Patient Ratios in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Senator Maria Collett recently announced the reintroduction of the Patient Safety Act to help set safe nurse-to-patient ratios in Pennsylvania – a problem that has been exacerbated by COVID-19. This legislation is currently being considered by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee and, if passed, will likely prompt hospitals and other health care facilities to review and revisit their staffing plans accordingly to ensure compliance with the new requirements.

According to the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, insufficient staffing for nurses has been a chronic problem for hospitals in Pennsylvania. Even prior to the pandemic, studies showed that understaffing was the biggest cause of nurse burnout and turnover. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have been on the front lines risking their lives daily while facing insufficient staffing and unsafe conditions, leading to a sharp decline in physical, mental, and emotional health..

Proposed Nurse-to-Patient Ratios

SB 240 establishes safe patient ratios under the care of an individual nurse in Pennsylvania hospitals, with proposed civil penalty fines of not more than $25,000 for each initial violation and an additional $10,000 per nursing unit shift until the violation is corrected. The nurse-to-patient ratios are set depending on the nature of the unit, factoring in the level of intensity, type of care, and individual needs of each patient. The following chart lays out some of the nurse-to-patient ratios and relative areas outlined in SB 240.

  • Patients receiving conscious sedation
  • Critical Trauma patients
  • Intensive care unit
  • Critical care unit
  • Neonatal intensive care unit
  • Burn unit
  • Intermediate care unit
  • Pediatrics
  • Emergency department
  • Ambulatory surgical units
  • Psychiatric units
  • Nursery
  • Rehabilitation unit

Patient safety and care quality is directly related to staffing support for nurses. When staffing levels are low, nurses who are burdened with stress and fatigue, have less support and time to care for each patient individually. Ensuring that nurses are staffed correctly and sufficiently will lead to a dramatic increase in patient safety and care, and an overall reduction in costs to hospitals.