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News :: Labor
Nurses demand safe staffing ratios
18 Jul 2005
Hundreds of nurses and health care activists from across New England rallied at the statehouse July 14 to demand legislators pass state legislation mandating safe nurse-to-patient ratios.
ma nurses pic.jpg
Nurses demand safe staffing ratios

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

BOSTON -- Hundreds of nurses and health care activists from across New England rallied at the statehouse July 14 to demand legislators pass state legislation mandating safe nurse-to-patient ratios.

The one-day action sponsored by The Massachusetts Nurses Association union was a continuation of mass state-wide actions in an effort to pass House Bill 2663 “An Act Ensuring Patient Safety,” (

Similar to California state mandated nurse-to-patient ratio legislation won by the California Nurses Association, the MNA supported bill would mandate safe staffing levels based on specific hospital location and specialties. In intensive care the bill calls for one nurse to two patients while in medical and surgical units the nurse-to-patient ratio would be 1-to-4.

The MNA represents over 22,000 nurses and other health care workers at 85 facilities in Massachusetts. The third largest state association in the United States and the largest in Massachusetts, the MNA is a member of the American Association of Registered Nurses.

Nurses took over the Statehouse wearing blue T-shirts reading “safer ratios save lives,” and testified before the Public Health Committee which discussed the safe staffing legislation. As MNA executive staff and rank-and-file workers spoke at the podium in support of the safe staffing bill, nurses and their allies held aloft placards declaring: ”Registered Nurses Say: Ratios save lives.”

The MNA continues to gain broad support most evident by the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, an alliance of 93 health and patient groups that support H. 2663. Coalition members include Arise for Social Justice, the Communication Workers union Local 1365, the Community Church of Boston, the Boilermakers union Local 29, Electrical Workers Local 2222, Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1459, Jobs with Justice, the Laborers union Local 429, MA Asian AIDs Prevention Project, MA Federation of Teachers, MA Immigrant and Refugee and Advocacy Coalition and the Steelworkers-Massachusetts.

Over 100 legislators also support this bill but largely due to MNA pressure and the massive poor and working class support of it.

In response to this widespread public support for the safe staffing bill, The Massachusetts Hospital Association, a bosses’ industry council representing 85 private and public hospitals in the state, is attempting to ram through a bill of its own with no mandates and rife with co-option language. Hospital bosses and their stooges in the legislature spoke on behalf of this bill at the Public Health Committee July 14.

In response to this bill, the MNA states on its website: “It’s full of empty promises. Hospitals cannot be counted on to adequately staff registered nurses because doing so cuts into their profits.”

“Their plan,” the response continues, “asks us to trust that they will do something in the future that they have already failed to do in the past. It is up to the state to put patient safety before profits by enforcing minimum nurse staffing levels.”

A system-wide crisis

A study by the Opinion Dynamics Corporation, an independent research company, released at the state house rally, establishes that 90 percent of RN’s surveyed say patient care is suffering due to understaffing and speed up conditions with devastating and even deadly results for patients (

According to the MNA, in Massachusetts there are adequate numbers of certified registered nurses to fill all the needed positions but many won’t or can’t work because of the abysmal working conditions. And many nurses simply burn out after working 32 hour weeks for only a few years or less.

The ODC survey found that:

*More than 1-in-3 nurses report patient deaths directly attributable to having too many patients to care for;

*Seventy-seven percent report an increase in medication errors due to understaffing, a 10 percent increase over 2003;

*Fifty-nine percent report readmission of patients due to understaffing.

“These results represent an indictment of the hospital industry and demonstrate without a doubt that hospital administrators are not putting patients first-they are putting them in harm’s way,” said Karen Higgins, RN and MNA president.

Other recent studies by ODC have found that:

*Seventy-eight percent of doctors surveyed between in early 2005 think staffing levels of registered nurses in Massachusetts are too low and 82 percent agree that the quality of patient care in hospitals is suffering because there are not enough registered nurses working in the hospitals;

*Seventy-nine percent of patients and their loved ones say that the quality of patient care in general, in Massachusetts is suffering because nurses are being forced to care for too many patients at once; and

*Eighty-three percent of patients and their loved ones overwhelmingly support passing a law mandating safe staffing ratios to address understaffing.

Not backing down

With this evidence and with poor and working class public support behind them, the MNA will not stop until the safe staffing bill is passed and signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, declared Higgins.

“The time has come to pass the nurses’ bill and end the suffering of our patients.”

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