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Survey: Illinois nurses were burning out even before COVID hit

By MARY SCHUERMANN KUHLMAN, Public News Service Illinois

The burnout experienced by Illinois nurses on the front lines of the pandemic is apparently nothing new.

In a survey of hospitals in Illinois and New York taken just before the arrival of COVID-19, half of nurses scored in the “high-burnout” range as the result of their workloads.

The research found that average staffing levels in adult medical and surgical units ranged from roughly three patients per nurse to 10 patients per nurse.

Vice President of the Illinois Nurses Association Doris Carroll RN said the results are not surprising, as there’s no state standard for hospital nurse staffing.

“We have over two decades now of research that supports having a maximum number of patients to care for,” said Carroll. “It does save lives, it does improve patient and nurse satisfaction. And guess what? It also could save the state of Illinois millions of dollars.”

The findings came as nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital voted nearly unanimously on Wednesday (995 to 12) to authorize a strike if the hospital doesn’t agree to set a limit on the number of patients assigned to each nurse.

The contract between the nurses and University of Illinois Hospital expires on Monday.

The Illinois Nurses Association is also calling for the passage of the Safe Patient Limits Act (HB 2604) that would require “reasonable” nurse-to-patient ratios at hospitals.

The group’s Executive Director Alice Johnson explained it’s an important issue for their members.

“They have been advocating for safe patient limits for over a year now, speaking with legislators about the importance of this,” said Johnson. “Now, they’re trying to push for implementation of the safe patient limits at the bargaining table, and they’re being disrespected and ignored.”

In the survey, 65 percent of the nurses said delays in care were common because of insufficient staff, and 22 percent said they intend to leave their jobs within a year.

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