WASHINGTON — Hundreds of nurses from around the county gathered on May 12 at the U.S. Capitol to raise awareness of the staffing crisis in our nation's hospitals and the need for solutions.

The goal was to bring attention to two current bills before Congress the National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act (S. 864) and the Nurse Staffing Standards for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2015 (H.R. 1602). The bills mandate national nurse-to-patient ratios that are similar to those that have been successfully in effect in California since 2004.

Planning for the rally began in October 2015 with a small group of nurses who felt inspired by recent events surrounding nursing in the media. The time had come for nurses to stand together on issues that impact not only them but also their patients.

What started as a grassroots movement, quickly garnered momentum with the power of social media. During a few Twitter parties, the #NursesTakeDC was trending in the top 10. Quickly, the news of the event spread and in a few short months, more than 10,000 people joined a Facebook group in support. The movement was gaining momentum.

So on an overcast Thursday, hundreds of nurses from across the country met on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Nurses from at least 35 states came to unite as one voice in the hope to raise awareness for the need of safer staffing and ultimately patient protection. Many described feeling compelled to come and be a voice and a part of something so important to their work as nurses.

Although many came alone or in small groups, it was immediately evident that when nurses and healthcare workers get together, a camaraderie is found. Quickly, conversations were started, stories exchanged and new friendships formed. The common theme for everyone was that the current state of healthcare has to change or patients will continue to be harmed.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who introduced H.R. 1602, was greeted with wild applause as she discussed the importance of reaching out to fellow legislators regarding the importance of the bill and her admiration of the nursing profession. She was joined by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), co-sponsor, who reminded the crowd and the public of the fact that patient safety should not be a political issue, but instead a public safety issue.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), a co-sponsor of H.R. 1602, expressed her deep appreciation for the work of nurses, as she herself was a stroke survivor and patient. Her passion for safe patient care was evident as she rallied the crowd to continue to put pressure on the legislature to pass this bill by cheering, "Yes, Joyce Beatty is loud! But sometimes we need to be loud!"

Other notable speakers included Kelsey Rowell with Your Heart is Mine. Rowell opened the rally with her spoken word and call for action to protect our patients. Andrew Lopez of Nurse Friendly shared his desire to see more nurses engaged on social media and to not be afraid to speak up.

Sandy Summers from The Truth About Nurses reminded the crowd that hospitals used to be run by nurses, not business people, which is contributing to the current crisis. She inspired the crowd to not accept the status quo and to stand up for our profession: "If someone throws a scalpel at you, call the police, just like you would do if you were not working."

Janie Harvey Garner, the founder of Show Me Your Stethoscope, closed out the scheduled speakers by sharing a story of a nurse who was fired in New York after she was assaulted by a patient's family member. She reminded the crowd nurses are not just replaceable pieces in healthcare; they are valuable members and should be treated with such respect. She encouraged the crowd to stand together, "They can not fire all of us. So we have to stand together."

The rally speakers closed out with an open microphone session where nurses shared their inspiring stories of defeat and triumph. Each of the speakers shared the common theme that the current state of healthcare needs to change.

Jalil Johnson, Show Me Your Stethoscope National Director, ended the rally by introducing "Pat," a mannequin who will be representing patients who need protection. The goal is to have Pat travel the nation spreading awareness of unsafe staffing practices. Pat will begin her journey in California and end in Washington, D.C., just in time for the next rally in 2017. Pat's journey can be followed via #SavePat.

Overall, all participants of the rally felt it was a huge success and the beginning of a powerful movement.

"We think what was accomplished was public awareness to the value of nurses, their impact on health outcomes, and nurses uniting to stand up for our patients and our profession," event organizer Pam Barcomb said. "Our hope for the future is that national nurse-to-patient ratios become law, and more states follow California's lead and success with mandated minimum nurse to patient ratios to protect patients and nurses."

If you would like more information on the Rally for National Nurse-to-Patient Ratios, you can join them on Facebook as planning begins for next year's rally.