Arizona nurses gather Tuesday to advocate nurse/patient ratios

Tucson Citizen 

Arizona nurses will gather at the state capitol Tuesday in an attempt to encourage lawmakers to make Arizona the second state in the nation to set minimum nurse to patient ratios.

The Arizona Hospital Patient Protection Act would set minimum ratios for each area of the hospital. For example, one nurse for every patient in an operating room and one nurse for every three patients in pediatrics.

California enacted its minimum staffing ratios in 2002.

Shawn Murray, a Tucson-area nurse for 11 years, went to the rally last year. She hopes this year's rally will get the attention of legislatures who weren't in office then.

"I'm hopeful in that sense maybe we can educate them and let them know what the situation is with the nurses in the hospital," she said.

Many Tucson area hospitals don't have set ratios. Murray, who works in an emergency room but declined to say which one, said the act would put one nurse for every four patients on her floor.

"If we had a 4 to 1 ratio on the floor in the hospital, I would be able to provide 100 percent safe therapeutic, compassionate care to my patients," she said "It's the patients that receive the benefit of safe care."

Without the act, hospitals can create their own ratios, but few do. University Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Riley said the act wouldn't change anything at the hospital because the hospital already voluntarily meets the proposed minimum ratios.

At Tucson Medical Center, spokesman Mike Letson said there aren't set ratios and the staffing numbers are determined by the needs of each patient.

At UPH Hospital at Kino Campus, spokeswoman Sarah Frost said the hospital has one nurse for every two patients in the ICU and 1 to 4 in the medical/surgical unit.

Alison McLeod, who lives in Bisbee but works for a nursing agency that sends her to several Tucson hospitals, said she will always be haunted by the day, five years ago, when one of her patients died. She was the only nurse on the floor and had to leave his bedside to get a medication even though he was in distress.

"Basically there was no one to help me or go get the medication," she said. "You will never forget that, even when they say it's not your fault. That's the type of thing that makes good nurses leave the profession."

The proposed act also provides for whistle-blower and patient advocacy protection. McLeod said she was recently fired from a hospital when she stood up to administrators to advocate for a patient who could not speak for herself.

She worries that other nurses may not speak out.

"If there was a situation that I felt was unsafe in the hospital, I would have mixed feelings on reporting that because I'm not sure my job would be protected," Murray said. "Sure, I could find a job at another hospital, but I would think twice."