Don’t terminate patient safety

Elizabeth Pataki is a Sacramento registered nurse

As a registered nurse (RN) of more than 44 years, I find the proposed nurse-to-patient staffing-ratio changes—and the TV ads supporting them—shocking, incredibly shortsighted and, worse, harmful to the people of California.

Research has shown a marked increase in patient morbidity and mortality as the RN-to-patient ratio increases. Per RN, for every additional patient over four, the statistical likelihood of patient death increases by 7 percent.

Because of the Safe Staffing Law, which mandated safe minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, California has more licensed RNs (an increase of 43,000), more out-of-state nurses coming here to work, more people choosing nursing as a career and, most importantly, more nurses at patients’ bedsides.

At our hospital, the turnover rate of more than 40 percent of our experienced RNs has decreased dramatically, and, on those floors following the ratio guidelines, our patient and staff satisfaction ratings have increased significantly. Only in the medical-surgical areas has staffing remained an ongoing problem, because of high turnover due to understaffing, overwhelming assignments and the decrease of support staff; one floor is staffed primarily by “traveling nurses.”

So, what is gained by the proposed return to Dark Ages staffing? Hospitals are not closing because of nursing ratios (some 50 hospitals had closed prior to the Safe Staffing Law), but because of the lack of reasonable funding—which can be addressed by developing single-payer health-insurance coverage. Without improved nurse-to-patient ratios and the ability to provide safe care, nurses will leave the bedside—and hospitals, once again, will have contributed to this loss.

And where do the patients, who overwhelmingly support the ratios and depend on our professional care when ill, fit into the proposed changes? At birth, in health, in sickness and death, dedicated nurses provide care, comfort and support for patients and their loved ones. Our governor must consider the needs of all the people of California, which is what distinguishes a statesman, and terminate this proposal to gut the Safe Staffing Law.

Just as Florence Nightingale lit the lamp of caring and compassion in the Crimea, each Californian should light up the lines to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and call, write or send an e-mail ( to demand a return to the enacted Safe Staffing Law.