SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed a new law mandating staffing plans to help make sure hospitals maintain appropriate nursing care for all Illinois patients. Senate Bill 867 requires hospitals to have hospital-wide staffing plans that outline the minimum nurse-to-patient staffing needs for each inpatient care unit. The measure was sponsored by Senator Carol Ronen (D-Chicago) and Representative Esther Golar (D-Chicago).
“Hospital patients depend on good nurses to help them get better. We need to make sure that enough nurses with the right expertise are working at any given time,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “This law will help ensure that skilled nurses are available around the clock.”
Because care situations vary depending on the illness of the patients and the size of the facilities, the plans mandated by SB 867 must be flexible and be developed by health care providers as well as administrators. In preparing the plans, staff must consider the volume of patients, the complexity of care needed for patients in each unit, the number of referrals needed for patients, the need for special equipment and technology when establishing how many nurses are necessary for each shift.
The staffing plans must also determine how many nurses at specific expertise and skill levels should be assigned to each inpatient care unit. These plans must include the identification of additional registered nurses available for patient care when unexpected needs exceed the nursing staffing plan. The written staffing plan must be posted in a location easily accessible to patients and staff.
“Nurses deserve to know what to expect when they report for their shifts. A well-considered staffing plan developed for and by their peers will make it easier for each nurse to provide the level of care each patient needs,” said Sen. Ronen. “This measure also gives hospitals the flexibility they need to change staffing levels as necessary to meet special challenges.”
“Staffing by patient acuity, with involvement of direct care nurses who really know the patient’s needs, is what the Illinois Nurses Association has been advocating for since the mid-90’s. We believe this bill will improve the quality of patient care by giving front-line nurses a voice in determining safe, adequate nurse staffing levels. And having adequate numbers of nurses gives nurses the time to do what we do best….provide personalized patient care. More nurses will stay in the profession if they are empowered to do the care they love to do,” said Pam Robbins, 2nd Vice-President, INA.
“We need to make sure that patients get the best possible care when they are in the hospital. This law requires proper planning and coordination to ensure there will be the right number of nurses on each shift,” said Rep. Golar.
The information gathered from the development of staffing plans will also benefit educators and community health planners who are charged with developing mid- and long-range plans for community health care. By knowing what current needs are, they can work to retain, recruit or train enough nurses with the right skills to maintain high quality health care. Consistent staffing plans will also encourage retention of nurses currently working in hospitals by improving the work environment and increasing job satisfaction.
The number of potential caregivers, including nurses, is projected to decrease 4.2 percent between 2000 and 2020, while the number of those who need care is projected to increase by 31 percent. All told, by 2020 Illinois could be facing a shortage of over 21,000 nurses. According to region-by-region numbers put together by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the state currently has a nursing shortage of 7 percent (vacancies vs. jobs filled) and that shortage is projected to grow to almost 8,000 registered nurses and 1,200 licensed practical nurses (per year, projected through 2010).
SB 867 is effective on January 1, 2008.
Since 2003, Gov. Blagojevich has signed several important measures to meet the need for more nurses in Illinois. Some of those measures include:
- The Illinois Center for Nursing: A Center for Nursing was established in 2006 within the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, to develop a strategic plan for nursing manpower in Illinois, maintain a database on nursing supply and demand, and to develop nursing retention and recruitment initiatives.
- Nursing educator scholarships: Since every additional faculty member in nursing can add 10 more nurses to the workforce, the Governor created a nursing educator scholarship that will make pursuing a career in nursing education more attractive and more affordable in the State of Illinois.
- Grants to nursing schools: Capacity in nursing colleges around the country is reaching the breaking point. In fact, over 26,000 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate granting nursing programs in the United States because of faculty shortages, crowded clinical facilities, and funding shortfalls. In Illinois, over 1,100 qualified applicants were not admitted. In order to increase the number of faculty, and the number of graduating nurses as a result, Illinois makes competitive grants available to nursing schools to be used to hire more faculty members or create evening or weekend training programs, among other options.
- Expand and improve the nursing scholarship program: The existing nursing education scholarship law has been improved to allow merit, in addition to financial need, to be taken into consideration when determining recipients of the nursing scholarship. Taking in account merit in awarding these scholarships will improve the successful completion rate of nursing education programs as well as helping Illinois produce high quality nurses.
- Student loan repayment for nurse educators: There is a new provision in Illinois that creates a loan forgiveness program for students who choose to become nursing faculty. The Illinois Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program, through the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), is an incentive for nurses to continue teaching.
- Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI): The Governor made a commitment in his 2005 State of the State speech to address the shortage of health care workers through his Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI). Eighteen million dollars is being invested statewide to ensure that every region of the state has a well-trained and equipped workforce in the health care industry. Through an innovative approach that is currently being replicated by Indiana, Local Workforce Investment Boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers are developing individualized strategies to address local employment needs and to get more health care professionals into the workforce.
- Streamlining the license process: Through a coordinated effort by the Governor’s Office, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and the Illinois State Police (ISP), 800 nurse-licensing applications were reviewed and approved since the Governor’s announcement in the State of the State address. Since 2001, Illinois has required nursing professionals to submit to a background check as part of the application process. A backlog of more than 1,800 applications had built up since the law was enacted. Both IDFPR and ISP have developed comprehensive guidelines for dealing with licensed fingerprint vendors to ensure that backlogs do not recur in the future.
- Keeping nurses in Illinois: A new law enables advanced practice nurses to be licensed in more than one specialty without having multiple graduate degrees as long as they have the educational and clinical experience to be nationally certified. This encourages highly trained advanced practice nurses to stay in Illinois by making it easier for them to advance in their careers.
- Establishing a first-in-the-nation externship program: Nurses who are licensed under the laws of another state or territory of the U.S., primarily from Puerto Rico, who wish to practice in Illinois and are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination, are now allowed to work under the direct supervision of a registered professional nurse licensed in Illinois while they are enrolled in a course which prepares them for the licensure exam and acclimates them to nursing and health care delivery in our state. This increases diversity within the nursing profession and prepares nurses educated in a U.S. territory for practice in Illinois.