Inside Penn Medicine CEO's decision to support nurse staffing legislation

In July, Penn Medicine's CEO took a stance many other hospital CEOs wouldn't dare touch. 

Kevin Mahoney, CEO of Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania Health System,  co-authored an opinion piece published July 9 in which he supported a Pennsylvania bill that, if passed, would set limits on the number of patients nurses can be assigned in different units. 

Taking the position was about much more than mandating ratios through legislation, according to Mr. Mahoney. Already, "I'm over the top proud of the ratios that Penn provides," he said. And he's well aware nurse-to-patient ratios are not the sole answer to solving the healthcare industry's staffing challenges — that's not what drove him to take the stance. 

"My heart is I want people to come back to healthcare," Mr. Mahoney told Becker's. Supporting the legislation, "is what I hope is a statement that we have to look in the mirror and we need to fix the workplace," he said. "It's not just [about] giving bigger pay raises." 

There's no shortage of surveys and reports indicating nurses' and other healthcare workers' intent to leave, and in many cases, feeling stretched too thin on the job is referenced as a reason why. Mr. Mahoney worries about how this affects younger generations and their interest in pursuing a career in healthcare.

"What are our nurses right now telling people? I want it to be a positive message," he said. "But I worry if we don't make these jobs safer and more rewarding — intrinsically and extrinsically — people won't go into these jobs." 

Staffing ratios have sparked debate between nurse associations and hospitals for decades, and volumes of research point to benefits on both sides of the coin. In any case, Mr. Mahoney is passionate about attracting people to healthcare careers, and part of that involves showcasing what can be done to make the work environment as safe as possible.

"As an industry, how do we make people want to come back [to healthcare]…to pick us first," he said. 

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