MA Nurses Aim to Take Staffing Debate to the Ballot Box

A Massachusetts nurses union wants voters to place a limit on the number of patients under the care of each nurse. Union nurses have been urging lawmakers to pass staffing legislation for over a decade. It hasn’t happened so they’ve introduced a ballot initiative. The proposal would set a 4 patient maximum for nurses in medical and surgical units and limit intensive care nurses to two stable patients. President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Donna Kelly-Williams says at some hospitals, nurses are assigned more patients than they can handle — which can be costly.

“Urinary tract infections pressure sores or bed sores that are extremely painful,” Kelly-Williams adds.  “That involves months of treatment if those are not prevented.”

A representative from Baystate Health says patient outcomes at his company’s hospitals have improved over the past five years without setting a patient limit for nurses. And he says hiring more nurses could mean more expensive insurance premiums for patients. Tim Gens with the Massachusetts Hospital Association — says that investment wouldn’t guarantee higher quality care overall.

“If you mandate the certain magic number for registered nurses’s — that affects the ability for there to be sufficient other professionals,” Gens says. “Doctors or pharmacists or lab techs that are also a critical part of the care giving team.”

The nurses are trying to get the proposal on the November 2014 ballot.