Healthcare Policy

Discuss 2 Please don’t combine everything. Answer each question separately for clarity

1A:Identify a current healthcare policy in your current role that you would like to see revised. Why? What would be the projected outcomes?

1B: discuss both the obvious and the non-obvious stakeholders?

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1C: Which stakeholders to you have the potential to influence?

1D: What barriers do you face with reaching stakeholders and allowing them to buy in?

1F Take the identified healthcare policy and. Identify both obvious and non-obvious stakeholders.

1G:Also identify stakeholders that you have the potential to influence.

1H:Determine the effect of healthcare politics on the healthcare stakeholders, state and federal government, and the nursing profession (

1J: Analyze legislative process and the impact of special interest lobbies


2A: How have you seen the diverse interests of healthcare stakeholders impact patient care in your nursing practice or in the practice of other nurses?

2B: In general, do you think political action committees (PACs) and special interest groups (SIGs) contribute to or detract from improvements in patient healthcare? Provide an example to illustrate your thoughts.

2C: What role should politics play in healthcare reform? What role should the DNP-prepared nurse play in the political process that impacts healthcare reform?


Nurse Staffing Ratios

Policy Options

Joanne Spetz

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.”

John F. Kennedy

The importance of nursing to the delivery of high-quality health care has been recognized since the inception of the practice of nursing. Various factors contribute to the quality of nursing care including the expertise of nursing staff, availability of supportive personnel and other health professionals, good communication among the care team, and the nurse/patient ratio. It was not until the early 2000s that high-quality empirical research found consistent relationships between licensed nurse staffing and the quality of patient care (Lang et al., 2004; Kane et al., 2007).

Concerns about the effects of changes in nurse staffing levels in the 1990s, combined with the increasing influence of nursing unions, resulted in the passage of California Assembly Bill (AB) 394 in 1999, the first comprehensive legislation in the United States to establish minimum staffing levels for registered nurses (RNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) in hospitals. This bill required that the California Department of Health Services (DHS) establish specific staffing ratios. These were announced in 2002 and implemented beginning in 2004. Since then, other states and the federal government have considered developing regulations for nurse staffing in hospitals. In 2014, for example, Massachusetts passed legislation mandating a ratio of one or two patients per nurse in intensive care units (Associated Press, 2014).

The Establishment of California’s Regulations

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was substantial debate about the changes in hospital staffing that had occurred in the 1990s and the effects of such changes on the quality of care (Aiken, Sochalski, & Anderson, 1996; Spetz, 1998; Unruh & Fottler, 2006; Wunderlich, Sloan, & Davis, 1996). In some states, legislators and regulatory agencies considered staffing requirements with an aim to increase the numbers of nurses and other health care personnel working in hospitals and other settings. As the 1990s ended, a shortage of RNs emerged, and concern about poor staffing in hospitals continued (Kilborn, 1999). It was in this environment that AB 394 was passed by the California legislature. Previous Republican governors had vetoed similar legislation, but union-friendly Democratic Governor Gray Davis signed AB 394, satisfying union efforts to pass minimum-ratio legislation. AB 394 charged the California DHS with determining specific unit-by-unit nurse/patient ratios.

The DHS began an extensive effort to determine the new minimum nurse staffing ratios, with little research to guide them (Kravitz et al., 2002; Lang et al., 2004; Spetz et al., 2000). To help develop the proposed ratios, the DHS commissioned a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis (Kravitz et al., 2002). It also received recommendations about the ratios from stakeholders, ranging from the California Hospital Association (CHA) proposal of a ratio of 1 licensed nurse per 10 patients in medical-surgical units and the California Nurses Association recommendation of 1 517licensed nurse per 3 patients in medical-surgical units. The ratios established by DHS were between those recommended by the CHA and the unions, with a 1 : 6 ratio in medical-surgical units starting January 1, 2004, and a 1 : 5 ratio in medical-surgical units commencing in January 2005. Other units have higher minimum-ratio requirements. The minimum ratios do not replace the requirement that hospitals staff according to a patient classification system (PCS); if a hospital’s PCS indicates that higher staffing is needed, the hospital should staff accordingly.

What Has Happened as a Result of the Ratios?

The implementation of California’s minimum nurse staffing ratio legislation led to legal challenges and state government efforts to expand RN education. It also drove increases in hospital nurse staffing and wages in California. Several studies have found that the ratios are linked to higher nurse satisfaction, but there is little evidence that the regulations improved patient outcomes. Some research has found that there may have been negative impacts on hospitals’ finances and ability to provide charity care.

Legal Challenges

Two days before the ratios went into effect, the CHA filed a lawsuit arguing that the staffing ratios should not apply if a nurse takes a scheduled break or unscheduled restroom visit. The DHS contended that if the ratios were to have any meaning, they must be effective at all times. The judge hearing the case agreed with the DHS in a May 2004 ruling (Berestein, 2004). The second major legal challenge to the ratio regulations came from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sought to delay the implementation of the stricter ratio of one licensed nurse to five patients scheduled for January 2005 due to the severe shortage of licensed nurses (Rapaport, 2004). The CHA filed suit against the DHS in December 2004 alleging that the emergency order had illegally bypassed the legislature (LaMar, 2005). In early March, a Superior Court judge tentatively ruled that the DHS had indeed not followed the law when issuing the emergency regulation (Salladay & Chong, 2005), and the judge’s decision was finalized in May 2005 (Benson, 2005a, 2005b; Gledhill, 2005).

Expansion of Nursing Education

To assist hospitals in meeting the staffing ratio rules, both former Governor Davis and Governor Schwarzenegger dedicated funds to expanding nursing education and reducing attrition from nursing programs. Between 2004 to 2005 and 2009 to 2010, nursing graduations in California increased by 72%, reaching over 11,500 new RN graduates per year (Spetz, 2013).

Are Hospitals Meeting the Ratios?

The inspection and enforcement mechanisms of the DHS are relatively weak. The DHS does not have the authority to impose fines or monetary penalties on hospitals that are found to violate the ratios, but instead requests and monitors plans submitted by hospitals to remedy the problem. However, other mechanisms do exist to ensure that hospitals adhere to the ratios. First, government payers such as Medicare and Medi-Cal (the state Medicaid program) require that hospitals meet all state and federal regulations and can deny payment to violators. Second, California’s cap on malpractice awards does not apply in cases of negligence, and a hospital could be deemed negligent if it consistently did not adhere to minimum nurse staffing regulations (Robertson, 2004). Third, unions draw public attention to hospitals that do not meet the staffing requirements, resulting in negative publicity for hospitals and increased scrutiny from DHS inspectors. Fourth, labor organizations that represent nurses have sought to incorporate staffing standards in their contract negotiations, with some success (Gordon, 2005; Osterman, 2005).

Several studies of all California hospitals have found that annual average numbers of RN productive hours and nurse staffing ratios in medical-surgical units increased markedly between 2001 and 2006 (Conway et al., 2008; Cook et al., 2012; Mark et al., 2012; Munnich, 2013; Spetz et al., 2009; Spetz et al., 2013). Spetz and colleagues (2009) found that statewide average RN hours per patient day increased 16.2% from 1999 through 2006, to an average of 6.9 hours per patient day. Interviews 518conducted with hospital leaders by a research team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) revealed that many chief nursing officers and other managers said they had hired nurses to meet the ratios, and most noted that it is challenging to adhere to the ratios at all times, including during scheduled breaks (Chapman et al., 2009).

Aiken and colleagues (2010) surveyed nearly 80,000 RNs in California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to learn their experiences with staffing, the work environment, and patient care. They found that nurse workloads, measured according to the average number of patients per shift, were lower in California than in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and that over 80% of California nurses reported that their assigned workloads were in compliance with the state’s regulation.

Has the Mix of Staff Changed?

There have been concerns that hospitals may have eliminated support staff positions because of the minimum licensed nurse staffing requirements (Spetz, 2001). Analyses of staffing data collected by the Collaborative Alliance for Nursing Outcomes (CALNOC) suggest that the substitution of licensed nurses for unlicensed staff may be widespread as the increase in RN staffing was much larger than the overall staffing increase among their hospitals (Bolton et al., 2007; Donaldson et al., 2005). In a series of qualitative interviews, some hospital leaders reported that they had laid off ancillary staff to use budgets to hire more RNs (Chapman et al., 2009), and the survey conducted by Aiken and colleagues found that nurses perceived reductions in LVN and aide use (Aiken et al., 2010). However, more recent analyses have measured only a slight decline in LVN staffing (Cook et al., 2012; Spetz et al., 2009; Spetz et al., 2013) and aide staffing (Cook et al., 2012; Spetz et al., 2009).

Have Hospitals Reduced Services and Charity Care?

The California Hospital Association warned that strict minimum nurse/patient ratio requirements would force hospitals to reduce their services. To maintain the minimum ratios, hospitals might reschedule procedures, close selected units and beds, or shut their doors entirely. However, there have been few verified reports of the minimum nurse/patient ratios causing permanent closures of inpatient hospital units or beds. There is some indication that there was lower growth in the provision of uncompensated care services among hospitals on which the regulations had the greatest impact on staffing levels (Reiter et al., 2011).

Have Hospitals Suffered Financial Losses?

Since 1999, California hospitals have been financially buffeted by numerous factors, including changes in Medicare and Medicaid payment policy and requirements that hospital facilities meet seismic standards through retrofitting or new construction (Spetz et al., 2009). Thus, it is difficult to determine whether the staffing regulations had any discernable effect on hospital finances. Qualitative evidence reported that hospital CEOs absorbed the costs of the ratios by reducing other budget areas, and some hospitals were able to obtain higher insurance reimbursement rates to cover additional staff expenses (Spetz et al., 2009). However, one analysis found that hospital prices rose even more between 1999 and 2005 than could be explained by labor cost increases that resulted from the nurse staffing ratios alone (Antwi, Gaynor, & Vogt, 2009).

In an analysis of hospital financial data, Cook (2009) found no significant change in total annual labor costs for licensed nurses, total annual hospital costs, or hospital prices. Reiter and colleagues (2012) used data from Medicare cost reports to explore whether changes in financial status differed between California hospitals that had higher versus lower preregulation staffing levels, and between California and other states. They found that relative to hospitals outside California, operating margins for California hospitals with lower preregulation staffing levels declined, and operating expenses increased significantly.

Did Wages for Nurses Increase?

In theory, when the demand for workers rises more rapidly than the supply, wages should rise. Two studies have examined whether growth in the hiring of RNs caused by the staffing regulations is linked 519to more rapid growth in RN wages. One study found that wage growth among urban RNs in California was as much as 12% higher than in other states (Mark, Harless, & Spetz, 2009). A more recent analysis measured a 4.9% increase in RN wages between 2000 and 2007 with one dataset, and no increase at all with a different dataset (Munnich, 2013).

Are Nurses More Satisfied?

Advocates of staffing ratio regulations link improved staffing to nurse satisfaction and argue that greater nurse satisfaction will reduce nurse turnover and lead to better patient outcomes (California Nurses Association, 2009; Public Policy Associates, 2004). An analysis of statewide nurse survey data found that there were significant improvements in overall job satisfaction among hospital-employed RNs between 2004 and 2006 (Spetz, 2008). Nurse satisfaction also increased with respect to the adequacy of RN staff, time for patient education, benefits, and clerical support.

Aiken and colleagues (2010) also found in their survey of nurses in three states that RNs in California were more satisfied with their working conditions. Nurses in California were significantly more likely to report that their workload was reasonable and allowed them to spend adequate time with patients and that they were able to take breaks during the workday. Nurses with lower workloads were significantly less likely to report that they received complaints from families, faced verbal abuse, were burned out, were dissatisfied, felt quality of care was poor, or were looking for new jobs.

Did the Ratios Improve the Quality of Care?

One of the main purposes of California’s minimum staffing legislation was to improve the quality of patient care. However, to date there is no convincing evidence that patient safety or the quality of care has improved. In the first paper published on this subject, rates of patient falls and hospital-acquired pressure ulcers reported to CALNOC between 2002 and 2004 were analyzed for 68 hospitals, and it was found that there was no statistically significant change that could be attributed to the ratios (Donaldson et al., 2005). A follow-up study of data through 2006 confirmed these results (Bolton et al., 2007). These analyses had two main shortcomings: They included only a subset of California’s hospitals and the two outcomes examined might not be very sensitive to changes in licensed nurse staffing. Studies that examine whether licensed nurse staffing affects rates of hospital-acquired pressure ulcers and postoperative hip fractures from a patient fall have produced mixed findings (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2005).

Aiken and colleagues linked their survey data to secondary data on patient outcomes collected by state government agencies (Aiken et al., 2010) and found that in all three states studied, higher nurse staffing levels were associated with lower rates of 30-day inpatient mortality and failure-to-rescue. These relationships were stronger in California than in other states. However, this analysis cannot confirm that the staffing regulations directly caused changes in patient outcomes. Research based on a single year of data does not measure the effect of changes in policy or practice on changes in patient outcomes. Although the responses of nurses regarding the patient safety environment suggest that the lower workloads in California are associated with more positive nurse perceptions of patient safety, these perceptions may not lead to actual improvements in patient outcomes. It’s important to note that the analysis of patient outcomes in this study was limited to two outcomes.

Several newer studies have used multiple years of statewide data and examined a wider variety of outcomes. For example, Spetz and colleagues examined OSHPD patient discharge data for all nonfederal, general acute care California hospitals from 1999 through 2006 but could not associate improvements in outcomes to the implementation of the ratios (Spetz et al., 2009). In a more rigorous analysis of OSHPD data from 2001 to 2006, Cook and colleagues (2012)found no association between changes in nurse staffing and changes in pressure ulcer rates or failure-to-rescue a patient after a 520complication. Using similar methods, Spetz and colleagues (2013) examined six patient safety indicators using OSHPD data from 2000 to 2006 and found that growth in registered nurse staffing was associated with an improvement for only one outcome, mortality following a complication. They also analyzed whether the average length of stay declined among patients who experienced adverse events to explore the possibility that improved surveillance in better-staffed hospitals might reduce the severity of any complications. They found growth in staffing was significantly associated with reduced length of stay for only one patient safety indicator: select infections due to medical care.

The most comprehensive analysis of the impact of California’s regulations on patient outcomes was published by Mark and colleagues (2012). Using patient discharge data from California and 12 comparison states they examined whether differences in staffing changes between California and other states were associated with different patient out­come trajectories. Their analysis also considered differences between hospitals with high preregulation staffing as compared with low preregulation staffing. They found that failure-to-rescue following a complication decreased significantly in some California hospitals, and infections caused by medical care increased significantly in some California hospitals as compared with comparable hospitals in other states. There were no statistically significant changes in either respiratory failure or postoperative sepsis.

Together, this research indicates that California’s regulations did not systematically improve the quality of patient care, although there remains a need for more research on this topic. The outcomes examined thus far have been relatively limited, and it is possible that patient care improvements will be found in other areas such as medication safety. It also is possible that changes in patient outcomes caused by the staffing ratios occur over a longer period of time. However, examining and interpreting data over a longer period of time will be complicated by the fact that many health systems and hospitals have established quality improvement programs in response to increased public attention to medical errors and patient outcomes.

What Next?

One remaining issue central to the debate about minimum nurse/patient ratios has yet to be addressed: What was the total cost of the ratio regulations?

Cost of the Ratios

Any positive impact of minimum staffing ratios should be weighed against their cost (Donaldson & Shapiro, 2011). As of 2014, these costs had not been accurately quantified. A careful accounting of the extent to which increases in nurse staffing were necessitated by the ratios, and the cost of any such increases, is necessary. Moreover, it is important to quantify the value of other investments hospitals might have made if they were not required to adhere to the staffing ratios. A hospital may have delayed implementation of a new infection-control system that would have reduced infection rates, and such opportunity costs should be included as part of the overall cost of the staffing regulations.

Legislative Options

The only federal regulation that directly referred to nurse staffing levels in hospitals at the time of writing is the 42 Code of Federal Regulations (42CFR 482.23[b]), which requires hospitals that participate in Medicare to have “adequate numbers of licensed registered nurses, licensed practical (vocational) nurses, and other personnel to provide nursing care to all patients as needed” (American Nurses Association, 2009). In 2009, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced S 1031, and Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced H.R. 2273, both of which would have required that hospitals implement nurse-to-patient staffing plans and meet minimum RN nurse-to-patient ratios for specified patient care units. These bills did not pass, although the bills were reintroduced in 2011 and 2013.

Some states have pursued their own staffing regulations. State regulations generally take one or more of three approaches: a requirement that hospitals develop and implement nurse staffing plans with direct input from nurses, requiring 521public disclosure of staffing levels, and/or establishment of fixed minimum staffing ratios. California is the only state to have implemented a law using this third strategy, although similar legislation has been proposed in other states including Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Some states have opted to develop staffing regulations that offer hospitals more flexibility than fixed minimum staffing ratios. Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Washington have signed into law requirements that hospitals implement and enforce a written nurse staffing policy. In most of these states, the staffing policy must be developed by a committee that includes staff nurses. Rhode Island requires that hospitals submit a “core staffing plan” to the state department of health annually, with specific staffing for each patient care unit and each shift (American Nurses Association, 2013).

The third, and least binding, approach to nurse staffing regulation is to mandate reporting of staffing ratios to the public or to a regulatory agency. In New York, for example, facilities must make available to the public information about nurse staffing and patient outcomes. Specific adverse events, such as medication errors and decubitus ulcers, are considered reportable information under this law. Other states with public reporting requirements are Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. New Jersey’s regulation mandates that hospitals post daily staffing information for each unit and shift and provide these data to state regulators, and in 2009, New York added a similar posting requirement to its regulations.

Even without new legislation, hospitals are likely to continue to focus on nurse staffing improvements as the evidence suggests that nurse staffing is a good financial investment in quality improvement (Rothberg et al., 2005). More research is needed, however, to determine whether the lack of measured benefit from California’s regulation is caused by limitations of prior research or indicative of an actual lack of impact. If California’s regulation can one day be shown to have improved patient outcomes at an acceptable cost, it will be easier for other states to follow in California’s footsteps.

Discussion Questions

  1. It is not clear from the research conducted thus far whether California’s staffing regulations have improved patient outcomes. However, several studies have found that nurse satisfaction has improved and that nurses perceive that they are providing better care. Is improving nurse satisfaction a sufficient reason to establish this type of regulation?
  2. Several studies have suggested that hospitals responded to the staffing regulations by reducing staffing of non-RN personnel. What might be the benefits and consequences of reducing non-RN staffing?
  3. Are regulations that require staffing committees likely to effectively address concerns about inadequate nurse staffing? What about laws that require public reporting of staffing levels?


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