News & Events

Advocates For Patient Safety Urge Senate to Act on Nurse Staffing Legislation

BOSTON — Chanting “vote, vote, vote,” supporters of legislation that would require a state public health agency to establish staffing standards for nurses in acute care hospitals in Massachusetts today urged the state Senate to take action on the bill.

If passed, the Patient Safety Act would direct the Department of Public Health to use scientific research, expert testimony, and accepted best practices to establish optimum nurse-to-patient ratios for various hospital units, as well as to set a limit on the maximum number of patients to which any one nurse could be assigned. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in May, is backed by the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, which consists of 106 healthcare, consumer, patient advocacy, and consumer organizations.
“Somewhere along the line, we just lost good old-fashioned common sense,” said state Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), the Senate sponsor of the legislation. “For anyone to be against the Department of Public Health establishing fair and common sense regulations for patients … it’s almost criminal.”

Speaking before some 50 supporters of the bill – a group that included many frontline registered nurses, as well as patient advocates and senior citizen advocates – gathered on the front steps of the State House, Pacheco noted that the government regulates many other industries and has a moral responsibility to act to ensure that hospital patients receive the best care possible.
“It is incumbent upon Beacon Hill to ensure that patient safety is paramount in Massachusetts,” he said.

The Patient Safety Act, officially known as House 4988, also calls on DPH to establish a system to rate the illness level of patients, so that those nurses assigned to care for the most seriously ill people accordingly will be assigned fewer patients. At today’s demonstration, a supporter described a crisis situation caused by inadequate staffing.

“Make no mistake about it, every day in Massachusetts patients are suffering in pain; patients are being neglected; patients are falling; patients are experiencing preventable and costly complications simply because their nurse is not there when they need them to be there because he or she is struggling to meet the needs of too many other patients,” said Beth Piknick, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

An overwhelming body of evidence shows that the health and safety of hospital patients is seriously jeopardized when their registered nurse is caring for too many patients at once, the Coalition said. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between registered nurse staffing levels and the outcome of patients’ hospital stays, finding that when adequate staffing ratios are in place, patients suffer fewer complications, medical errors, and re-admissions.

Jeremiah Hurley of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council said senior citizens “support this bill because we, more than any other demographic group, spend more time in the hospital than anyone else. We know the value of having a nurse there when you need one. For us, this goes well beyond politics; for us, this is a matter of life and death.”

Linda DeBenedictis, president of the New England Patients Rights Group, cited a recent survey of patients in Massachusetts hospitals showing that one in four reported their safety was compromised during their hospital stay due to understaffing of registered nurses. She called H. 4988 “a fair and reasonable solution to the patient safety crisis” that would save thousands of lives every year.”

John McCormack, a patient advocate and author of Taylor’s Law named for his 13-month old daughter who died as a result of a preventable medical error, stated that death from medical errors was a “leading cause of death in America,” and that “poor nurse staffing was a major cause of these deaths.” McCormack said he was urging the Senate to take immediate action the bill so that “no other father will experience my pain.”

The Patient Safety Act additionally prevents understaffing of other health care workers who support nurses in caring for patients, and prevents delegation of duties that demand nursing expertise to unlicensed personnel. It also establishes nurse recruitment initiatives sought by the hospital industry.