Using impact litigation as one tool among many in its Safe Staffing Saves Lives®
campaign, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and its Constituent Members Associations (CMAs) were able to shine a brighter light on the issue of RN staffing, leading to meaningful change in the accreditation process and in Medicare law that will support better RN staffing levels and improved patient outcomes.
In June 2006, ANA, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to address RN staffing levels in most of the nation’s hospitals. The lawsuit focused on the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department’s failure to require The Joint Commission to apply RN staffing standards that were as high as the standards in the Conditions of Participation (COP) for the Medicare program. The COP for hospitals in the Medicare program include the requirement that there be enough staffing with RNs and other professionals so that an RN is immediately available to provide bedside care to meet patient needs, but The Joint Commission standards did not have that requirement.
While the lawsuit was pending ANA, NYSNA, and WSNA engaged in critical dialogue with The Joint Commission about needed improvements in its standards to meet every patient’s reasonable expectation that a nurse will be readily available when they need one. Beginning in July 2009, The Joint Commission’s performance elements require that each department or nursing unit must make certain that, when needed, a RN is immediately available for bedside care. The Joint Commission noted that a registered nurse is not immediately available if the RN is working on more than one unit, floor or building at the same time. Despite the fact that the court ultimately dismissed the lawsuit in January of 2009, ANA, NYSNA, and WSNA were instrumental in working with The Joint Commission in changing its standards to include these fundamental legal requirements in support of patient care.
In addition, during the summer of 2008, Congress changed the Medicare law by removing the statutory reference to The Joint Commission, effective July 15, 2010. This means that The Joint Commission will have to apply for deemed status and be approved by the federal government, just like all other accreditation programs.
Go to web site below for more information regarding ANA’s Safe Staffing Saves Lives® campaign.