Communications For Hospital Staffing Ratio Legislation

Strategic Communications Regarding Staffing Ratio Legislation

Everyone in healthcare is feeling the acute pain of the nationwide shortage of registered nurses. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, approximately 100,000 nurses left the workforce in recent years and more than 610,000 nurses report an “intent to leave” by 2027.

While hospitals and healthcare systems are working to implement modern and creative staffing models and advocate for sustainable solutions to bring new nurses into the workforce, labor unions are seizing upon the challenges in adding nurses to drive their own agenda.

Labor unions are working with legislators who are aligned with organized labor’s agenda to pass one-size-fits-all nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and other staffing mandates through both legislation in individual states as well as a federal bill known as the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. Unfortunately, these proposals do not address the stressors ultimately driving the nurse shortage.

Hospitals need to not only be aware of the growing momentum behind these legislative mandates but must also develop action plans now for anticipated legislative efforts. With our background in labor relations, public affairs, internal communications, and stakeholder engagement communications, IRI Consultants can help optimize government relations and internal communications strategies so they seamlessly work together to establish trust with policymakers, nurses, patients, and communities.

The Latest Push for Nurse-to-Patient Staffing Ratios

California remains the only state that currently mandates nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in every unit and every acute care hospital across the board. (At the time of publication, an Oregon bill is headed to the governor’s desk for signature.) However, mandates that require hospitals to hire a preset number of nurses do not automatically create more nurses, nor do they provide a long-term solution to the nurse shortage. It’s no surprise then, that nearly 20 years after California’s staffing ratios were implemented, labor unions in the state are still using this issue to bolster additional organizing efforts and challenge hospital management’s commitment to patient care and employee safety during labor contract negotiations.

The mixed data on staffing ratios has not stopped labor unions elsewhere from capitalizing on the challenges being experienced by the nursing workforce to advocate for more mandates.

In just the past year, nearly a dozen states have considered legislation on staffing ratios or staffing committees. Local jurisdictions, too, are considering mandates. We’re keeping track of efforts to implement nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in this interactive map.

Building an Effective Government Relations Campaign

Because the issue of staffing ratios is so intertwined with an organization’s people strategy, effectively getting ahead of potential legislation involves marrying government relations and internal communications in a coordinated strategic campaign. A proactive campaign on multiple fronts will allow hospitals to proactively define the narrative, effectively shape legislation, communicate transparently with their nursing workforce, and build trust with key stakeholders.

With labor unions taking an assertive and outspoken position both online – using nurse testimonials and op-eds – and offline – through in-person rallies at state capitals – it is critical that an organization’s government relations team have a solid, public-facing communications strategy in place that engages both traditional and digital media.

Labor unions are also utilizing corporate campaign tactics that are designed to damage an organization’s reputation with key audiences using messages that maliciously portray hospitals and healthcare systems as working against the needs of their patients and workforce. An organization must proactively communicate the initiatives they have already deployed to bolster the nursing workforce. Not only will this aid in defending against unwarranted attacks, but it’s likely that this will build goodwill with any employees who are not aware of the work that is already being done.

Complement External Outreach with Strong Internal Communications

Although a government relations campaign is ultimately meant to shape legislation, it still requires targeted communications strategies to internal audiences. Staffing ratios is an issue that directly affects an organization’s workforce. Employees may already be receiving information from labor unions that portrays mandated nurse-to-patient staffing ratios as the perfect solution to their unique challenges. As an employer, you must take the opportunity to clearly communicate the unintended consequences of staffing ratios and demonstrate why that isn’t the best answer to the safe staffing question. Healthcare systems and hospitals cannot assume employees know what steps are being taken and must be vocal about the steps underway to protect the workforce by addressing staffing challenges. If you are not filling the information void, you can be certain your detractors are.

Dealing with an issue that cuts across such a diverse range of audiences and requires unique messaging strategies for each can be difficult. Thankfully, an experienced consultant, who acts as a campaign manager, can work within and among different departments to connect the dots and produce an integrated strategy, deploying the best channels and tactics, to communicate effectively with both lawmakers and employees.

At IRI, we help clients navigate the ever-changing labor landscape and craft compelling communications strategies for all internal and external audiences. We recognize every business is different, and each requires its own holistic and customized approach to communications. Whether you need an internal communications assessment, guidance in developing your internal communications strategy or social media strategy, digital media intelligence, crisis communications services, media relations, or media training, we have expert communications consultants who can quickly provide a tailored solution. Contact us today to discuss the next steps, give us a call at (313) 965-0350.

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