500,000 Petitioners Support Safe Working Conditions for Nurses
Abby Donley, an intensive care nurse based in New York, believes she has post-traumatic stress disorder from the first COVID-19 wave in March 2020.
“The whole ICU was full of my patients,” said Donley, who left hospital work in 2021 after 13 years as an ICU nurse. “To see all of your patients…paralyzed, sedated on a ventilator, and ultimately expired, it was pretty traumatic for me.”
Donley said her hospital was over capacity due to the influx of coronavirus patients, and she felt that she couldn’t give her patients the care they needed because she was stretched too thin due to understaffing. If hospital nurses don’t have enough time with patients, Donley explained, they cannot adequately preform their job duties.
California is currently the only state that sets nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, often referred to as “safe-staffing ratios” that limit the number of daily patients a nurse can adequately treat at one time. ICU nurses in California, for example, can care for just two patients at once.
In an effort to make working conditions better for her peers, Donley, cofounder of the non-profit IMPACT in Healthcare, and fellow nurse Blake Lynch, who worked in hospitals for 8 years, launched a petition calling for hospitals to ensure nurses work with a safe level of patients at once.
At more than 500,000 signatures, Donley and Lynch’s safe-staffing petition is currently the fourth-most-signed campaign on Change.org over the last 12 months, a company spokesperson told Insider. The petition ranks in the top 10 largest healthcare campaigns of all-time.
“This is one of several petitions started by nurses on Change.org during the pandemic that have seen remarkable signature growth,” Change.org campaign director Alex Rapson said in an email to Insider. “Nurses are proving time and again that they are leaders in social change.”
Donley and Lynch said short-staffing was worsening before the pandemic. Healthcare worker burnout reached record levels the year before COVID-19 hit.
Keeping the number of patients assigned to a nurse low both saves lives and decreases hospital expenses, according to data from Australia, which began regulating nurse-to-patient ratios in 2016. Since the laws went into effect, researchers found that 145 patients deaths were avoided and hospitals saved anywhere between $54 to $81 million as fewer people needed to be re-admitted.
The pandemic magnified hospital staffing problems, prompting 1 in 5 healthcare workers to quit during the pandemic, with many citing burnout as their reason for leaving.
Lynch worked in a hospital setting until 2019, when he transitioned to making videos about nursing for his roughly 3.5 million followers on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Lynch said he wants to help the public and other healthcare workers better understand how nurse-to-patient ratios impact care.
“We want to point out that nurses aren’t being treated with respect or dignity when they’ve gone through the hardest time in their profession the past two years with,” he said. “It’s just getting worse and worse.”
Lynch and Donley are calling for better oversight of hospitals to ensure workplaces enforce safe-staffing policies. The two nurses want the Joint Commission, a non-profit that accredits hospitals and makes sure they are complying with nationwide safety standards, to require hospitals limit the number of patients per nurse. The Joint Commission did not respond to a request for comment.
“I have four patients in the ICU — I should only have two paralyzed, intubated, or sedated COVID patients that need a lot of care — and I come home and I feel like I harmed those patients because the bare minimum is all they got,” Donley said. “That’s not nursing.”
(This story originally appeared in Business Insider.)