Every May, National Nurses Week brings an opportunity for nurses nationwide to unite, share their pride in their profession, and have their voices heard about any concerns. This year’s National Nurses Week theme, “Culture of Safety…It Starts With You” focuses on the safe practices that protect nurses and patients.

A grassroots nursing movement advocating for safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios is inviting all nurses to gather at the Rally for National Nurse-to-Patient Ratios in Washington, DC, on May 12. Other events will take place nationwide including state rallies in North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas.

“We want to generate more dialogue about the problem and for nurses around the country to be empowered and feel they are not alone in this struggle,” says Jalil Johnson, BSN, MS, RN, ANP-BC, PhD(C), national director of Show Me Your Stethoscope (SMYS), which is sponsoring the event in conjunction with Nurses for National Patient Ratios, A Voice for Nurses Now, Illinois Nurses Association, and HireNurses.com. “There is a nation of nurses facing this struggle.”

In addition to bringing nurses together to call attention to safe staffing, the rally will raise awareness and support for two pending federal legislation items: S. 864 (National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act) and H.R. 1602 (Nurse Staffing Standards for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act). According to SMYS, “These bills seek to establish a federal standard for safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in acute care hospitals, setting a maximum number of patients for which nurses would be allowed to care during a given shift.”

Johnson says standardizing safe nurse-to-patient ratios doesn’t mean focusing on one number. Each unit, each organization, and each assortment of patients needing varying levels of care makes it tougher to mandate a specific ratio that can be deemed safe. And there are huge disparities seen across the nation, says Johnson, as each state has very different struggles with health care. “We want to level the playing field,” he says. “Or at least start the conversation to level the playing field.”

Johnson hopes the rally will raise awareness and get this important issue on the radar of legislators who can implement nationwide change.

According to SMYS, several speakers are slated to address rally attendees including Andrew Lopez, RN, CEO of NurseFriendly; Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH, executive director of The Truth About Nursing; and Janie Garner, RN, founder and executive director of SMYS.

Nurses who attend the rally or get involved in other ways can then share their stories long after the day is over. “We want to get the public involved,” Johnson says. “Whether you are a nurse, a patient, or anyone who is in a hospital setting, at some point in your life, you will feel the effects of this one way or another.”

As one of many groups working on safe staffing issues, Johnson says SMYS emphasizes that the focus is not on individual people or organizations. Getting safe ratio legislation implemented means standard safe ratios are in place at federal or state level which protects patient and nurse. Right now, California is the only state with mandatory safe staffing ratios.

“We are not against any hospital or any organization,” he says. “We just want institutions to follow the models known in science.” He refers to many studies that have shown the more patients a nurse has to care for, the less positive outcomes are and the less safe both nurses and patients are.

Nurses are often afraid to speak up about unsafe ratios for fear of retaliation. Despite the labor laws in place, Johnson says many nurses have this concern, making a common discussion that much more essential. “We want to empower nurses to think they can do something,” he says. “We have to raise the level of the discussion. This isn’t about your charge nurse or about your unit manager. They are working in a broken system.”

With the rally being a gathering point to launch the issue, Johnson says it’s only the beginning. State chapters are forming their own plans as many aren’t able to hold rallies on the same day as the national rally, so that gives nurses across the country many chances to get involved.

If you can’t head to the nation’s capital, Johnson says you can still get involved by showing up or connecting with your local chapters of SMYS for Change. You can participate in any of the media campaigns, he says, by following on Twitter, and sharing, liking, or tweeting about any articles written on the topic.

And to have the most impact, just start talking. The more you talk about the issue, the more likely you are to realize just how much this is on the minds of all nurses.

“It’s empowering to have a bunch of people who share your problem and are working on it,” says Johnson. “What we’ve started is not funded by major companies, but started by passionate, dedicated people. That’s what drives us. This will continue on.”

Johnson says the rally is a starting point for nurses, organizations, patients, and lawmakers nationwide.

“The rally will not make any legislation pass, but it will bring attention to the need for safe ratios,” says Johnson. “If we do this enough, we will get results. What happens on the nurse-patient basis affects everyone across the country.”

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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