Checking in on Ohio Nursing Legislation as Lawmakers Break for Summer Recess

A measure to address staffing challenges is facing significant pushback from the Ohio Hospital Association, and it has yet to clear its House committee.

Jul 10, 2024 at 9:58 am
While the Ohio House passed a bill aimed at reducing violence in health care settings, the bill doesn't address what the nurse union sees as a much greater threat — lack of adequate staffing.
While the Ohio House passed a bill aimed at reducing violence in health care settings, the bill doesn't address what the nurse union sees as a much greater threat — lack of adequate staffing. Photo: Laura James, Pexels

Shortly before Ohio lawmakers left for summer recess, the House passed a bill aimed at reducing violence in health care settings. To the Ohio Nurses Association, it’s an important step toward improving safety. It’s also doesn’t address what the nurse union sees as a much greater threat — lack of adequate staffing.

A measure to address staffing levels faces significant pushback from the Ohio Hospital Association, and it has yet to clear its House committee. At least so far, there are no sessions on the Ohio House calendar for the remainder of the year.

Both measures would also need to get a vote in the Ohio Senate which is on recess until after November’s election.

HB 452 — Violence prevention

On the House floor one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, described the physical and mental toll violence takes on health care workers.

“This has been something on the rise for the past 10 years,” she argued, “And nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers in health care and social service industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence and are five times as likely to get injured at work than the overall workforce.”

White and her co-sponsor Rep. Rachel Baker, D-Cincinnati, contend the threat of being harmed at work is encouraging workers to leave the industry.

“These events have been so common that I’ve heard nurses and health care providers say that experiencing violence is just part of the job,” Baker said. “This is unacceptable, and as a state, it’s critical that we work to support those providing direct care to patients.”

Among their measure’s changes are requiring hospitals to develop violence prevention protocols and an incident reporting system to track violent encounters. It also takes precautionary steps like requiring signage warning against violence, providing for de-escalation training, and allowing workers to get name tags with their first name only.

In a press release the ONA praised lawmakers for passing the legislation.

“This legislation represents an important initial move towards addressing the violence that Ohio’s nurses and health professionals face daily. We commend the General Assembly for recognizing this critical issue,” the organization wrote.

Notably, although the ONA backed the measure, they’d encouraged lawmakers to institute harsher penalties when individuals assault health care workers with bodily fluids. That would’ve mirrored punishments for assaulting law enforcement officers, but lawmakers didn’t amend those provisions into the bill.

And the measure didn’t pass without pushback. State Rep. Angie King, R-Celina, expressed concerns about the potential costs for rural hospitals and “unintended consequences.”

She noted aggressive behavior isn’t defined and asked about people seeking “alternative treatments” for themselves and family members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Would these individuals who begged, pleaded, and perhaps raised their voices be deemed aggressive?” she asked.

HB 285 — Staffing mandates

Meanwhile, lawmakers are still working on the proposal establishing minimum staffing guidelines, but time isn’t exactly on their side. The committee tasked with considering the bill has yet to hold hearings with proponents or opponents.

In a letter to the House Speaker in May, Ohio hospital and business interests criticized the idea as a crippling administrative burden as hospitals face a major labor shortage.

“A one-size-fits all approach to staffing simply does not consider the many complexities and nuances of running a business and a hospital is no exception,” the coalition wrote.

And the group noted, critically, that the only other state to impose similar standards is California.

“Ohio is proudly not California and therefore should not follow their lead,” they insisted.

In the same statement that ONA praised the workplace violence bill as making “strides in the right direction,” the union criticized hospital interests for “continu(ing) to prioritize their revenue and public image over the safety of their employees and the patients they serve.”

“To directly enhance the safety of nurses, health professionals, and patients, the most effective solution is to implement minimum staffing standards, as outlined in House Bill 285,” the ONA insisted. “Adequate staffing is essential to ensure that health care workers can perform their duties safely and effectively, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes and a more secure work environment.”

Research from University of Pennsylvania professor of nursing Linda Aiken gives some credence to the union’s argument. She noted several studies in the U.S. and abroad demonstrate increases in mortality as a nurse’s patient load climbs.

For now, the Ohio House is out on recess but committees will likely hold additional hearings before November’s election. It’s too soon to say, however, whether the committee handling HB 285 will meet and hold enough hearings to get the bill to the House floor. Meanwhile, the clock ticking on the current legislative session, and the Senate is has just five more sessions on the calendar in November and December.

This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.


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