The Washington Post

Nurses union urges D.C. Council to approve nursing ratios on international day of action

On International Nurses Day, the D.C. Council was targeted by protesters seeking approval for a bill to force mandatory staffing ratios for nurses and patients at D.C. hospitals. (Aaron D. Davis/The Washington Post)

A decade after the first and only strict law on nursing ratios went into effect in California, the nation’s largest nurses union on Monday again targeted D.C., hoping it can convince the 13-member D.C. Council to break a national stalemate over the issue.

National Nurses United, which represents 185,000 registered nurses nationwide, organized a rally on Pennsylvania Avenue of about 50 RNs on International Nurses Day. The group delivered to council members a list of alleged incidents of unsafe care in D.C. hospitals due to nurses being stretched thin in recent months in caring for patients.

A bill to require D.C. to institute strict rules — limiting to four the number of patients per nurse in many situations — has been stymied in the council’s health committee and shows no signs of being resuscitated anytime soon.

Like with other national goals for labor groups, such as increasing the minimum wage and demanding more compensation of big-box retailers, the D.C. Council remains an attractive target for the nurses union. It would have to convince just a handful of Council members, rather than an entire state legislature, to make the ratio law.

In D.C., a majority of Council members actually signed on in support of the measure last year, but one of those signatories — Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), chair of the health committee, has delayed the bill. Alexander said in March that she had grown sympathetic to the hospital industry’s arguments against the bill: that its effects on patient safety is unproven and that increasing nurse staffing will lead to decreases in other key hospital personnel.

But nurses who spoke outside the Wilson Building on Monday morning said they believe they eventually will win over the council with the help of constituents who face poor service in D.C. hospitals.

Potential benefits of strict nursing ratios remains a point of contention, with few large-scale independent reviews of patient outcomes of the law in California, where nurses unions have great leverage with hospitals and some have won significantly higher pay and other benefits compared to those on the East Coast.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who both ran for the Democratic nomination for mayor, spoke at Monday’s rally. In the run-up to the April 1 primaries, Orange attempted to circumvent Alexander’s committee, introducing emergency legislation to pass the bill directly to the council. Orange withdrew the bill after Alexander accused him of election-year politics.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Most Read
Failed to render /WEB-INF/jsp/features/most/sidebar/feature.jsp. Cause: An exception occurred processing JSP page /WEB-INF/jsp/features/most/sidebar/feature.jsp at line 116 113: ${globemail} 114: 115: 116: <%=list.get(0) %> 117: 118: 119: <%=list.get(1) %> Stacktrace:. See Server Logs for detail.



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.