Safe Ratios Save Lives!



by Melissa Brown RN

EDIT,  March 22, 2016:  It has come to my attention that some hospitals are telling nurses that disclosure of nurse staffing levels to patients amounts to “patient abuse.”  Some  hospital admins are expressing the concern that “patients won’t feel safe if they know how many other patients their nurse has.”

This is wrong! Again, nurses are being expected to tacitly accept the blame AND the responsibility when dangerous nurse-to-patient ratios, dictated by the oh-so-concerned hospital administrators, are allowed to continue. 

Nurses:  Speak out!  Patients and members of the public:  Please support us, for your sake and the sake of your loved ones.


Nurses need your help so we can take better care of you!

Here’s the scenario: You (or your loved one) have been hospitalized. You expect and deserve top notch care, so you want your nurse to be available when you need her or him.  But….too often your nurse isn’t available, and no doubt you are wondering why.

You wonder if your nurse is knitting a sweater for her baby, watching TV on a smart phone or kicking back in the nurses’ lounge playing poker.

No! What you are experiencing may well be unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios — in short, your nurse may have too many patients assigned to her or him that shift, which translates into you not getting the care and attention you need and deserve from you nurse.

Nurses want to be there to give you the care you need. For many, nursing is a calling, a passion. However, in the current health care climate, providing the high quality nursing care that nurses want and need to provide to their patients is sometimes impossible due to the high number of patients assigned to each individual nurse, whether it’s on the general floor, in the ICU, in the Emergency Department, on a behavioral medicine unit or elsewhere.

So what can YOU do?

The next time your nurse makes rounds, ask your nurse what the recommended nurse-to-patient ratio is on your hospital unit. Then, ask what the nurse-to-patient ratio is at that moment!

Don’t expect the nurse to answer. Expect some polite hemming and hawing. Many, if not most, hospitals in the USA threaten to fire nurses who discuss nurse-to-patient ratios (nurse workloads, “short staffing”) with their patients. This is one of  hospital industry’s best-kept secrets.

Since you don’t want to get your nurse fired, ask to speak to the nursing supervisor. If the super won’t discuss it with you, or gives you an off-the-cuff “don’t worry, you are safe!” response, ask to speak with the patient advocate (if the hospital has one.) If that doesn’t work, demand to speak to the Director of Nursing. Go up the chain to the CEO if necessary. Find out what that nurse-to-patient ratio is! Find out how many patients your nurse has! Ask if it is safe!  Demand safe nurse-to-patient ratios!

The quality and safety of your in-patient care, or the care of your loved one, may depend on the answer to this simple question. And the future of nursing lies in your hands.

Please help us be there…..for you.






The Birth of a Nurse Radical


by Melissa Brown RN

So it’s the New Year, and something is on my heart.

We all talk about radicalization. How does it happen? What causes it? How does a “normal” person become radicalized?

I’m not talking about radical terrorism here. I’m talking about the radicalization of health care professionals, especially nurses.

While interacting on a post on the Show Me Your Stethoscope Facebook page this morning, I recalled the personal incident that started my drift into “radicalization.” I remembered the incident that led to my becoming a nurse who would no longer stand for unfairness within our profession, our personal lives or the lives of our patients.

The incident, you ask? I had a mastectomy in January, 1996. Although immediate reconstruction is now the norm, my insurer would not approve it at that time. Although my physician and I continued to lobby the insurance company to approve this surgery (TRAM flap reconstruction) for nearly three months,  the answer was always “we are still considering it.”

By the end of March, 1996, I was fed up with calling the insurer every day in an effort to obtain approval. I finally decided to take the the sort of direct action touted by activists and other radical types:  A sit-in!

The next morning at 9 am, I was at the corporate office of my insurer. Politely, I asked to speak with the medical director. Naturally, I was told he was out of the building. I told the receptionist I would wait until he returned. She then told me (gee, whiz!) that he may not be in that day at all. I told her that was okay, but I would still wait.

And wait I did, as others came and went. I had brought my lunch in a paper bag, so I had a cheerful noon repast as others watched in confusion and amusement.

I waited until 5  pm. As the receptionist was closing the office, I smiled and told her I would be back at 9 am the next morning to wait yet again for the medical director to arrive.

At 8 am sharp the next morning, as I was preparing to go to the corporate office for another sit-in, I received a phone call from the insurer. My surgery had magically been approved!

Something sparked inside my heart that morning. It became clear to me that perseverance and direct action could change not only my life  but also the lives of others.

On that day in late March, 1996, I became a fighter, a “radical” nurse. Over the next 20 years, that spark became an inferno. Although I am now retired, I still fight harder than ever before on behalf of nurses and nursing.

It’s past time nurses recognize and act on their personal and collective power. We are a force that cannot be ignored any longer.

#GuerrillaNurse  #SMYSoffical  #NursesUnite  #NursesTakeDC