A sign thanking nurses is painted on a window at Maine Medical Center in Portland on Feb. 10, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Cokie Giles is a registered nurse and president of the Maine State Nurses Association, which represents 4,000 nurses and caregivers from Portland to Presque Isle. MSNA is affiliated with National Nurses United.

Does this feel familiar? You or a loved one are in the hospital and you hit the call button and then you wait, and you wait, and you wait. Perhaps you need help to go to the restroom or your loved one is getting confused in the unusual surroundings. But here you are waiting and you think: Where the heck is my nurse?

After spending 40 years taking care of the Bangor community as a registered nurse, I can tell you that nurse is running from room to room caring for other patients. Maybe they are calling a doctor for a patient who is failing, or they are transporting a patient to get an X-ray, or maybe there is a life-and-death emergency with their patient down the hall.

I can also tell you that nurse absolutely hates making you wait. They want more than anything to be there right when you need them — that is why they dedicated their life to caring for patients and made a commitment to ensure each and every patient gets optimal care.

But too often, no matter how fast they run, how quickly they work, they cannot care for patients the way they want.

Why is this?

Because in Maine, there are no limits to how many patients a nurse can be asked to care for at one time.

When nurses have too many patients, essential, lifesaving nursing care is too often left undone. RNs are responsible for monitoring vital signs, constantly assessing patients’ physical status, adjusting patients’ medications, and so much more. When nurses are overwhelmed, we may miss subtle signs that may signal complications that require life-saving efforts. Skilled, vigilant monitoring is essential for healing, saving lives and avoiding preventable complications.

But how can we do that when we are running from room to room?

We simply cannot, no matter how hard we try. We are not heroes, we are humans.

We suffer serious moral injury and moral distress when we think about that patient who was scared and we just didn’t have time to educate them about their condition and the disease process — and in so many other situations. Moral distress is causing both veteran and new nurse nurses to leave the bedside.

But many of us believe in the power of nursing and have resolved to fight harder to make things right for our patients.

That is why we are fighting for passage of LD 1639, sponsored by Sen. Stacy Brenner, a registered nurse, which would limit the number of patients nurses can be assigned during their shifts and provide protection to nurses who report unsafe care conditions.

This legislation will protect patients and nurses.

We know that safe staffing improves patient outcomes. A 2021 study reported that each additional patient per nurse increased the odds of hospital patient mortality by 12 percent in patients with sepsis.  

The Maine Quality Care Act would keep nurses at the bedside. When nurses know they will get an appropriate patient assignment that affords them the time to deliver the care that patients need, they will stay. Unsafe staffing drives nurses away.  

We believe the hospital industry is opposed to this legislation because safe patient ratios may cut into their bottom line. We have seen Maine hospital systems warn of the closure of units. But,  in fact, studies show that emergency room diversions decreased and the number of registered nurses working in hospitals increased after the passage of California’s law.

Whom do you trust to make decisions about staffing, those who are counting the dollars or those who are committed to caring for you? As nurses, who spend more time with our patients in the hospital than any other medical professional, we know what it takes to give you the best care. This is our mission, and you can bet we are going to fight to see you get it. So please support us, and help us pass LD 1639 so that you and yours get quality care all across our beautiful state.