Ohio Nurses Association Declares ‘Code Red’ Hospital Staffing Crisis

Farah Siddiqi
Ohio News Connection

The Ohio Nurses Association has undertaken a so-called Code Red campaign to call attention to the shortage of nurses in Ohio hospitals, which could lead to a patient care crisis.

The campaign focuses on five areas, including staffing levels, working conditions, the nursing workforce pipeline, corporate trends and trust and agency within the profession. They hope to encourage employers and lawmakers to implement the staffing ratios their nurses need.

“That is our sounding the alarm and putting forward real workable strategies to address the nurse staffing crisis in Ohio,” said Rick Lucas, president and executive director of the Ohio Nurses Association and himself a registered nurse.

The ONA conducted a survey in 2023 that received more than 11,000 responses from licensed nurses in Ohio, seeking to find out why nurses are leaving bedside care positions.

It found:

  • 58% of nurses who left bedside roles did so because of their patient care load.
  • 70% of direct care nurses are currently considering leaving bedside roles because of their patient care load.
  • 88% of nurses would consider staying in bedside roles if Ohio had legally enforceable minimum staffing standards.

“Nurses need help. We needed help before the pandemic,” Lucas said. “After enduring that and dealing with the exacerbated staffing shortage, we really need help. And we need for people to know what’s happening in our hospitals so that they can help fight for the change that they need as well.”

Ohio House Bill 285, the Nurse Workforce and Safe Patient Care Act, was introduced in September 2023. If enacted, the bill would establish minimum staffing standards in Ohio hospitals, create a loan-to-grant program to support nurses in training, ensure accountability in hospital compliance, establish nurse staffing committees with direct caregivers and create whistleblower protections for patients, nurses and hospital staff.

The Ohio Nurses Association supports HB 285.

“It’s a way for us to attract and retain those nurses here,” said Rep. Elgin Rogers, D-Toledo, a co-sponsor of the bill. “We want to make sure that we have nurses who are qualified. Nurses are in high demand, but we want to make sure that they are trained properly and they remain in Ohio.”

The nursing shortage around Ohio hospitals started before the Covid-19 pandemic and is expected to get worse, peaking in early 2027, Lucas said. Nurses now have more responsibilities than ever, ranging from caring for patients to taking out the trash and changing the linens.

“There were barely enough nurses scheduled already, and then when Covid hit, things only got worse, with stressing an already broken system,” Lucas said.

Beyond that, Lucas said hospitals are relying heavily on travel nurses – nurses who aren’t based in any one location, but instead work for several months at hospitals in need of staff before moving on.

The $20 million loan-to-grant in HB 285 is designed to help encourage nurses to stay in Ohio. Nurses could be eligible for up to $12,000 in forgivable loans if they stay in Ohio for at least five years of work.

“In this particular item, there is significantly a higher value than some of those other programs – with the $5,000 that’s available, but then also the ability for that to turn into a grant for the full amount,” said Wendy Batch-Wilson, dean of nursing at Cuyahoga Community College.

Rogers, a Democrat, and his Republican co-sponsor hope the bill will go to the floor for a vote before the General Assembly session ends.

“They went to college; they went to school; they sacrificed,” Rogers said. “So we want to make sure we’re creating an atmosphere where they can do what they were called to do in this great state.”

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Pictured at top: Photo via pexels.com.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.