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Department of Public Health Report of 76% Increase in Hospital Injuries and Complaints Echoes View of Front Line Nurses Who Have Reported Similar Safety Problems in Massachusetts Hospitals

Coalition of Health Care Advocates Point to Legislation to Regulate RN-to-Patient Ratios as Key to Improving Care and Preventing Errors and Injury to Patients

CANTON, Mass. — A report released today by the Department of Public Health detailing a 76 percent increase in the number of hospital injuries, errors and patient complaints supports the experience of front-line registered nurses in Massachusetts, who have been reporting similar findings to state officials for a number of years.

The incidents identified in the DPH report released today have been attributed to understaffing of registered nurses in a number of previous studies published in the nation’s most prestigious medical journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine and in a landmark report on hospital patient safety by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.

In June an independent study of registered nurses in Massachusetts found that poor RN-to-patient ratios are resulting in significant harm and even death for patients. According to the survey, 87 percent of nurses reported having too many patients to care for, with devastating results for patients:

Alarmingly, nearly one in three nurses (29 percent) reported patient deaths directly attributable to having too many patients to care for;

  • 67 percent reported an increase in medication errors due to understaffing;
  • 64 percent reported an increase in complications due to understaffing;
  • 54 percent reported readmission of patients due to understaffing;
  • 52 percent reported injury and harm to patients due to understaffing;
  • 1 in 2 nurses reported that poor staffing leads to longer stays for patients, which cost more; and
  • Only 4 percent of registered nurses report that patient care in their hospitals is excellent.

An additional survey of the state’s residents revealed that Massachusetts voters view these statistics as a dangerous fallout from inappropriate cost cutting.

"The results of the latest DPH report underscore what registered nurses have been saying for years, poor staffing conditions in Massachusetts Hospitals are harming patients, as nurses struggle to care for too many patients at a time," said Karen Higgins, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Reporters interested in seeing the full results of the RN survey can contact the MNA for an email copy at 781.249.0430.

"The DPH findings and the survey of nurses should be a wake-up call to hospital administrators, a warning to patients who seek care in our hospitals, and a call to action for legislators, who have in their hands the means to protect the public from the serious risks posed by current hospital conditions," Higgins said. "The solution to the deterioration in the quality and safety of care for patients in Massachusetts hospitals lies in the passage of legislation to regulate RN staffing levels."

H.1282, which aims to mandate minimum RN-to-patient ratios in all acute care hospitals in Massachusetts, was developed in response to studies by the New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and other prestigious researchers revealing that the more patients a registered nurse cares for, the higher the risk of injury, illness and mortality to those patients. H.1282 also aims to end the current nursing crisis that exists in the Commonwealth, in light of findings that overwhelming patient loads are the single biggest reason why RNs are leaving the bedside practice at alarming rates.

The bill was filed by Rep. Christine Canavan (D-Brockton) and the MNA, and is co-sponsored by 101 out of 200 members of the Legislature, including 14 of the 17 members of the Joint Committee on Health Care. In addition to legislative support, the bill has garnered strong support from 64 health care and consumer advocacy groups, who have joined forces with Bay State RNs to form the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, which will push for this urgently needed measure to safeguard hospital patients. Information about the coalition and the safe staffing legislation can be found at