News & Events

Patient Care Advocates Disappointed by Conference Committee’s Failure To Include Safe Staffing Pilot Program in Final Budget

Conferees Miss Opportunity to Protect Patients
Urge Ways and Means Committee to Act on Staffing Bill before End of Session

CANTON, Mass. – The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients announced today its disappointment with the failure of the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee to include a pilot program in the state budget that would establish and maintain safe, flexible, minimum RN-to-patient ratios in acute care hospitals. Advocates for safe staffing will now focus efforts on passing a similar measure, H.1282, which is being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee.

"The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients believes the time has come for RN-to-patient ratios to be enacted. As those who advocate for patients with chronic and debilitating diseases, we know the impact the current staffing levels have on patient care and we remain committed to seeing that they are improved," said Carlos Alvarez, Executive Director of the American Lung Association of Massachusetts and a member on the executive committee of the Coalition, an alliance of 70 leading health care and consumer advocacy groups.

"This is a missed opportunity to protect patients and improve the safety and quality of care in our hospitals," said Karen Higgins, RN and president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "We have a true crisis in care in our hospitals, and every day that we wait for this legislation to become law, a patient in our hospitals suffers unnecessarily. The Legislature must act to adopt safe RN-to-patient ratios before the end of this session and we are committed to doing everything we can to make that happen."

The conferees were considering a Senate measure, championed by Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), that would have provided for a pilot program that would phase in ratios in all Massachusetts acute care hospitals over a three-year period; with 10 hospitals required to adopt the ratios in the first year, 15 more in the 2006, and the remainder in 2007. H.1282, the original Safe RN Staffing bill, which was filed by the MNA and approved by the Joint Health Care Committee last November, is still alive and awaits action in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The need for safe staffing legislation has been substantiated by a number of studies and reports published recently, including a National Consumers League survey of hospital patients, which found that nearly half of recently hospitalized patients reported their care was compromised by inadequate RN-to-patient ratios and a DPH report of a 76 percent increase in injuries, medication errors and complaints by patients in Massachusetts hospitals due to poor nursing care over the last seven years. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for every patient in addition to four assigned to a nurse, the risk of patient deaths increases by seven percent. If a nurse has eight patients instead of four, the risk of death increases by 31 percent.

"The whole key to this debate revolves around the fact that every day in our state, patients in our hospitals are forced to share their nurse with six, seven, eight, and even 10 patients, placing them at high risk for unnecessary injury or even death. The studies show that safe ratios are needed and can protect these patients," Higgins said. "However, the hospital industry, which created these conditions, has taken the position that it is okay for a nurse in the ICU to be assigned three patients or a nurse on the floor to have 10 patients, even if this increases those patients’ risk of death by 50 percent. We think this is unacceptable, and that is why nine in 10 nurses and nearly eight in 10 voters support H.1282."

With the Legislative session scheduled to end on July 31, the Coalition intends to step up its efforts to move H.1282 out of the House Ways and Means Committee and onto the floor for a vote. As of now, 102 of 200 legislators have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.