Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson on safe staffing: ‘It matters in patient outcomes–including in whether patients live or die’‘
Oak Brook, Ill. – As workers and patients alike continue to raise alarms on unsafe levels of staffing in Illinois hospitals, Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson (1st District), and the Poor People’s Campaign joined together with healthcare workers and leaders with the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois to deliver a petition to the Joint Commission on Accreditation for Hospital Organizations (JCAHO) and rally to demand the commission add staffing standards to its accreditation and licensing process for hospitals. The petition – signed by hospital workers and allies across Illinois and Indiana – spanned 18 feet.
“It’s common at Ingalls that we are so short staffed that a single CNA is responsible for caring for up to 20 patients at a time,” said Kawana Agnew, a certified nursing assistant at Ingalls Hospital in Harvey, Illinois and member of SEIU Healthcare Illinois. “…That’s so stressful, because it’s just impossible to have that many patients to yourself and provide the level of care they need and deserve. So you end up running yourself ragged and still patients are left shortchanged.”
Carrying signs emblazoned with “Safe Staffing Stat!” and “No Staff, No Seal: Safe Staffing Protects Us All,” hospital workers and SEIU Healthcare Illinois leaders shared personal experiences and demanded the hospital accreditation commission play a larger role in ensuring safe staffing to protect both patients and hospital workers.
“When patients come into the Emergency Room and they’re sick enough that they need to stay at the hospital, they often have to wait until there’s a clean room ready for them—because we’re so short staffed…” said Jackie Craig, a SEIU Healthcare Illinois member and environment services worker at Loretto Hospital. “That’s an awful feeling, knowing that there’s someone who is sick and probably in pain and needs a room and they’re waiting for me to do my job…you can’t do the work of two or three or four people, no matter how hard you try.”
“Working short staffed is an issue for both workers and patients,” said Yolanda Stewart, SEIU Healthcare Illinois member and patient care technician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “As a result of short staffing at my hospital, I often have to do the job of several people by myself. This leaves the patients with less care and workers in unsafe situations.”
Elected officials joined workers in calling upon the agency to prioritize safe staffing–and to stop accrediting hospitals that routinely short staff.
“We’re here to call upon the Joint Commission to make safe staffing a requirement for accreditation. And we’re calling for this because safe staffing matters. It matters in terms of preventing hospital acquired infections. It matters in patient outcomes–including in whether patients live or die,” said Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson (1st District). “As Politico recently reported, the pandemic exposed a critical weakness in the federal hospital regulatory regime–that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is reliant upon the Joint Commission and other private accrediting agencies to conduct safety inspections. The Joint Commission fails patients and workers by refusing to require that hospitals staff safely in order to receive accreditation. The people of Illinois deserve better.”
JCAHO has the reputation as the country’s premiere accrediting agency for health systems, but has to date failed to consider the serious and widespread consequences of short staffing on patient outcomes, including an increased risk of hospital acquired infections.
“As a former healthcare worker, I can tell you that workers have long known the importance of safe staffing. But I want to let you in on a little secret–the Joint Commission has long known the importance of safe staffing, too,” said Illinois General Assembly Representative Lakesia Collins (9th District). “Their own journal has cited adequate staffing levels as an important factor leading to higher quality care and better outcomes. And now, it’s time for the Joint Commission to act on that knowledge, and do the right thing. And stop accredited hospitals that short staff. Period.”
Study after study shows that higher staffing levels lead to improved patient outcomes. One recent study from the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that for every additional nurse on staff, patients are 14% less likely to die in the hospital. Meanwhile, studies show that understaffing is associated with increased risks of healthcare-associated infections.
“There needs to be more regulation period. Delegating the task of making sure hospitals are safe to a private institution like the Joint Commission is a band aid solution that isn’t working for anyone,” said Illinois General Assembly Representative Mary Flowers (31st District). “But first, and today, we need the Joint Commission to do the right thing and to stop accrediting hospitals that short staff. We know that hospitals care about–and need–the Joint Commission’s accreditation. Making safe staffing levels a requirement for accreditation would immediately and significantly improve care quality and patient outcomes in hospitals.”
“The sad reality is that many hospitals are prioritizing profits at the expense of supporting workers and patient care. They’re opting to under-staff facilities in order to pocket more money. And it’s workers and patients who are left to pay the price,” said SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley. “We have all kinds of rules to make sure that hospitals are safe – we make sure that healthcare workers wash their hands before procedures, that they wear gloves and protective equipment, that bed sheets are changed between patients. Yet there are no statewide regulations about hospital staffing levels. What we do have is accrediting agencies like the Joint Commission. And the Joint Commission enjoys a reputation for having the premiere ‘brand’ among accrediting agencies–so we’re here calling upon them to live up to their reputation and set the standard for safe staffing–and actually enforce that standard. No safe staffing, no seal of approval. It’s that simple.”
See a full album of photos here: https://seiu-hcii.canto.com/b/P1QTV
See all the news coverage here: https://seiuhcilin.org/2022/06/safe-staffing-stat-day-of-action-news-clips/