News & Events

As New Session Begins, Legislature Re-affirms Its Support for Patient Safety/Safe RN Staffing Bill

Majorities in both branches support bill setting minimum RN-to-Patient Ratios

CANTON, Mass.—As the 2005-06 legislative session begins, majorities in both branches of the Massachusetts Senate and House have re-affirmed their support for passage of patient safety legislation setting minimum registered nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals. A recent poll showed more than 80 percent of Massachusetts voters supported the bill.

"There is nothing more important to registered nurses than the delivery of safe patient care. Professional nurses have rallied time and time again for the passage of this bill. Their strength in this fight is unparalleled and it is time to listen to the public and front-line nurses and pass this legislation, so that no resident of Massachusetts will ever receive anything but superior care," said Rep. Christine Canavan, RN, lead sponsor of the bill.

As of Jan. 3, 104 legislators, majorities in both branches, had signed onto the Patient Safety Act (the Senate lead sponsor is Sen. Marc Pacheco). The bill was passed by the Health Care Committee in the 2003-04 session, a pilot program was included in the FY ’05 Senate budget, and the House Ways and Means Committee has created a subcommittee to move the issue forward.

The importance of the Legislature’s efforts to address this patient safety issue was made clear in a recent survey of recently hospitalized patients conducted by the National Consumers League, which found:

  • Almost half the people (45 percent) who have had direct hospital experience believe that their safety or the safety of their immediate family member(s) was—to some extent—compromised by a lack of available nurses.
  • More than one third of people with direct hospital experience reported not receiving important elements of care in a timely fashion.
  • Forty-one percent of people with direct hospital experience reported not receiving answers to their questions about the illness. One third reported not receiving adequate information about care prior to being released from the hospital.
  • More than three quarters (78 percent) of respondents indicated their support for legislative action to ensure an adequate supply of nurses to safely care for hospitalized patients.

Last year, a survey of Massachusetts voters conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp. of Cambridge found more than 80 percent were in favor of legislation to establish RN-to-patient ratios. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, along with 70 leading health care and consumer organizations, last year formed the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, which has been advocating for the passage of the bill. The coalition includes the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Health Care for All, League of Women Voters, the Mass. Senior Action Council and Mass. Association of Older Americans.

The bill, which is entitled "An Act Ensuring Patient Safety," would require all Massachusetts hospitals to adhere to Department of Public Health (DPH)-established minimum RN-to-patient ratios as a condition of licensure by DPH. It would protect Massachusetts patients by ensuring that they receive nursing care appropriate to the severity of their medical conditions. To ensure maximum flexibility, the bill also requires that Department of Public Health develop an objective system for monitoring patient medical conditions so that staffing levels can be adjusted and improved to meet patient needs. The bill would set minimum staffing standards specific to every unit and department in a hospital to ensure that major disparities in care levels do not exist in the commonwealth’s hospitals, and specifically provides that nothing in the bill "shall be deemed to preclude any facility from increasing the number of direct-care registered nurses."

"With vast support of the public, the legislature and with the overwhelming supporting scientific evidence, we expect this issue to move quickly to passage and implementation," said Karen Higgins, RN, president of the MNA. "This is essential to ensure Massachusetts hospital patients receive the highest quality of patient care."