Achieving safe staffing levels continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing nurses at the bedside. Workforce shortages, while not new, are being deeply felt across the country. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing shortages and has led to significant burnout among our nurses, driving even more nurses out of the profession. These shortages are unsustainable, making it even more vital that policymakers act now to identify and take action on new approaches to addressing safe staffing and other workforce challenges.
At ANA, we recognize this issue is essential to our nurses and are working hard to make real change at the federal level by advocating for the Administration and Congress to recognize and address this crisis. Through our regulatory advocacy, ANA has reached out to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) Center for Clinical Standards & Quality as well as the White House Domestic Policy Council to call for more meaningful conditions of participation that provide additional requirements and enforcement mechanisms for staffing at acute care hospitals.
More recently, ANA submitted comments on CMS’ proposal to institute the first-ever ratios for staffing in long-term care (LTC) facilities. As directed by an Executive Order issued by President Biden, CMS was tasked with studying staffing levels in these facilities and issuing regulations aimed at improving nurse staffing levels to enhance patient care quality. CMS issued a proposed rule in early September that would set minimum ratios for registered nurses (RNs) and nurse aides and require an RN onsite 24/7, among other implementation and enforcement requirements. When finalized, this proposed regulation will set a precedent for federal staffing requirements that could bolster our advocacy efforts related to safe nurse staffing in other settings as well.
This proposed regulation is so significant that, in addition to our comment letter, we also submitted a coalition letter to the agency that included 25 state nursing and organizational affiliate associations. Both letters echo previous calls for the Administration—CMS and other federal agencies—to work closely with the nursing community and other stakeholders to take real action to address workforce needs and challenges.
As part of our legislative advocacy, ANA recently endorsed the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (H.R. 2530/S.1113), introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the U.S. Senate and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9) in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill would establish minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in hospitals to help ensure patients have access to nurses who can provide them with the time and attention necessary to deliver high quality patient care. ANA sees the adoption of safe staffing levels as part of a multi-pronged approach to addressing the work environment challenges resulting in burnout and workforce attrition among nurses.
As we look to 2024, ANA will continue the drumbeat with federal policymakers about the critical need to take real action to address safe staffing for our nation’s nurses. We will keep pushing federal agencies to use their existing authority to ensure safe staffing levels in the health care facilities under their purview, while watching closely for CMS to issue the final rule on LTC facilities. ANA will also seek opportunities to call on Congress to implement safe staffing standards, while identifying and pushing back against any policies that could further exacerbate the nurse staff workforce crisis. Together with our members, we will continue to make real strides in addressing safe staffing for nurses and the patients they serve.