News & Events

State Senate Does Not Act on Safe RN Staffing Bill

Session Ends without Final Action on Important Patient Safety Measure

BOSTON, Mass. — The formal 2005-2006 state legislative session ended yesterday without the Senate taking action on H. 4988, the compromise safe RN staffing that the House of Representatives had passed overwhelmingly in May. Despite approval of the Patient Safety Act by a veto-proof House majority (133-20) and what promised to be a similar vote in the Senate, Senate leadership would not allow the bill on the floor for a vote.

In fact, a majority of senators had already signed on as sponsors of H. 2663, the original, much stronger version of the safe RN staffing bill, and in the last legislative session the Senate had passed a budget amendment calling for safe patient limits for nurses, the Massachusetts Nurses Association noted. During the last two weeks, many Senate supporters lobbied the Senate president to bring H. 4988 to the floor for a vote.

The bill would have directed the state’s professional public health experts to establish ideal patient-to-registered nurse ratios for different acute care medical units and to set maximum patient limits that hospitals could not exceed. The limits would have been based on extensive scientific research, expert testimony, and accepted best practices.

"It’s unfortunate that this vital life-saving measure never got the full hearing it deserved," said MNA president Beth Piknick. "The biggest losers in this debate are the patients in Massachusetts hospitals, who will continue to suffer the dangerous consequences of their nurses being forced to care for too many patients at once. Every day we delay setting safe limits on patient assignments, we can expect to see a continued increase in preventable medication errors, longer hospital stays and, yes, needless patient deaths due to chronic understaffing in our state’s acute care hospitals."

Despite the current setback, the MNA believes the hard work and tireless advocacy of thousands of nurses and supporters of safe patient limits has put this legislation on the verge of becoming law in Massachusetts. The MNA pointed to several developments as proof of the support for and growing momentum of safe-ratio legislation:

  • The hospital industry’s bill, which set weaker, watered-down standards, never made it out of committee;
  • Recent polling found that 70 percent of physicians, 90 percent of registered nurses, and 80 percent of voters support the legislation;
  • The Massachusetts House of Representatives became the only state legislative chamber in the country besides California’s to pass legislation setting a limit on how many patients a nurse is assigned at one time. “We applaud the House for their efforts," Piknick said; and
  • The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, an alliance that grew to encompass 106 leading health care and consumer advocacy organizations, strongly supported the bill.

In the coming months, the MNA intends to work aggressively to support the re-election of those legislators who strongly supported the measure, support new candidates who will make passage of this legislation a priority, continue to build and grow its coalition in support of safe staffing, and prepare its campaign for the next legislative session.