AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the U.S. marked 1 million lives lost to COVID-19 on Thursday, demonstrating nurses at the Texas Capitol told KXAN the nurse-to-patient ratio hasn’t improved much in the nearly eight months since the Austin area saw its peak in ICU hospitalizations.

“As nurses, we are here to take care of people,” said Amanda Rose. “And when we are being forced to take more patients than what is safe, the patients suffer, patient mortality goes up, and the nurses, themselves, get burnt out.”

Rose — who has been on the job since January — said was taught the ratio should be one nurse for every four to five patients who are not in critical condition or in the ICU.

“We had some of our nurses [at the rally on Monday] say that it was six, seven, eight or nine patients that they were getting,” Rose said.

Texas does not have mandated nursing staff ratios the way California does. However, the state does require hospital organizations to set their own staffing policies and plans and follow them.

Visiting from the Dallas area for the rally, nurse McKenna Gallagher said she’d like to see a mandate at the federal level.

“It seems like having our government backing us would allow everyone else to fall in line,” Gallagher said.

Dawn Webb with the Texas Nurses Association said mandates can be tricky as hospitals deal with staffing shortages after the pandemic pushed many nurses to the edge and out of the job.

“It’s hard to have to meet staffing ratios when you don’t have enough nurses,” Webb said.

Austin-area hospital systems Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, and St. David’s Healthcare didn’t answer specific questions about their staffing ratios but gave KXAN the following joint statement.

Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s HealthCare believe nurses are a vital part of the healthcare team. One of the ways we work to meet our nurses’ needs, provide best possible care, and keep patients safe is through proper staffing, including aligning our staffing models with major nursing and clinical association guidelines. Austin, like other parts of the country, is experiencing some challenges in filling roles given the national nursing shortage, but we are continually focused on retaining our talented workforce, recruiting, training, and promoting our clinical teams to maintain high-quality care while encouraging our nurses to continue to practice at the top of their license.

Joint hospital statement

Monday’s rally in Austin was part of demonstrations across the country to mark National Nurses Day.