News & Events

Advocates for Patient Safety Rally on the South Coast

Urge lawmakers to pass bill that will improve patient care, set safe RN-to-Patient Ratios

Fall River, MA — Advocates for patient safety from across the South Coast region launched a campaign within the region today to urge lawmakers to pass legislation that will improve the quality of patient care and set limits on the number of patients a hospital nurse can care for at one time.

Standing outside Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, advocates from the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients spoke out about the dangers of understaffing at area hospitals, and called on elected leaders to pass The Patient Safety Act: House Bill 2059. The bill calls on the state’s DPH to set a safe limit on the number of patients a nurse is assigned to care for at once. It also bans the dangerous practice of mandatory overtime, and includes initiatives to increase nursing faculty and nurse recruitment.

“No father should have to experience the pain of losing a child, as I have,” said John McCormack, co-chair of the Coalition and author of ‘Taylor’s Law,’ named after his 13-month-old daughter, who died as a result of a preventable medical error. “Every single day in the commonwealth, six people die needlessly of hospital-acquired infections. Safe staffing will save lives, provide better patient care, and prevent medical errors. I urge the Legislature to pass the The Patient Safety Act, and to pass it now.”

The hospital industry is trying to derail The Patient Safety Act, putting thousands of patients’ lives at risk. Understaffing leads to higher incidences of hospital-acquired infections, resulting in 2,000 deaths a year, an increased rate of medical errors and increased readmissions.

Joan Pingley of the Bristol County Chapter of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council also spoke out in favor of the measure, saying, “Senior citizens spend more time in the hospital than any other group, so we experience the devastating effects that overworked nurses can have on the quality of care we receive on a regular basis. It’s not just seniors who are endangered. Everyone is at risk for hospital-acquired infections—a deadly but preventable outcome of understaffing. Senior citizens of Bristol County urge the Legislature to pass The Patient Safety Act and save lives today.”

Angelena DeLima, a member of the Coalition for Social Justice and the family member of a patient who suffered substandard care at a local hospital, shared her experience, stating, “We watched day after day as my aunt’s nurses struggled to provide the care she needed and deserved. We watched mistakes being made, not because these nurses did not care, but because they were running themselves ragged, caring for far too many patients. On one occasion, my aunt, who was in the hospital with severe respiratory disease, went without her desperately needed oxygen because the nurse had not been to the room in hours to change the tank. In essence, my aunt was left to suffocate for lack of nursing attention.”

“Every day that goes by without passing The Patient Safety Act is another day that patients suffer, contract infections and fail to receive the quality of care they need and deserve,” said Karen Higgins, a registered nurse from Boston Medical Center and co-chair of the Coalition. “Bedside nurses are overworked trying to tend to the needs of too many patients. We know that implementing safe staffing will improve patient safety.”

Melinda Cabral, a local educator who administers a preschool program, commented on the need for safe staffing limits to protect children in hospitals. “For preschoolers in daycare, there are strict teacher-to-pupil ratios to ensure quality education and child safety. But I was blown away to learn that if one of our preschoolers suffers an injury or illness and needs to be hospitalized, when that child gets to the hospital there is no law to protect him or her?no limit on the number of sick children his or her nurse will be forced to care for,” Cabral said. “Where is our concern for quality health care and safety for our kids, and for all of us, in hospitals when we are at our most vulnerable? It makes me ask, where are our priorities?”

In May 2006 the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed similar legislation by a margin of 133 to 20 but the bill was not taken up by the Senate. The Patient Safety Act: House Bill 2059 is co-sponsored by State Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) and State Representative Christine Canavan (D-Brockton).

To date, 124 of the state’s leading health care and patient advocacy groups have endorsed H.2059 and have joined forces to push for passage in both the House and Senate. Recent voter surveys indicate that more than 80 percent of the public supports establishing safe staffing limits.

Advocacy groups in the South Coast region participating in the campaign include the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Bristol County Chapter; the Coalition for Social Justice; and the Coalition Against Poverty. As part of the effort, advocates will mobilize local residents to send postcards to legislators, as well as to e-mail local legislators in support of the bill. They also intend to mobilize residents to attend a public hearing on the bill, which is scheduled for October 24 at the Statehouse.