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Nurses/Advocates Angered by Senate Vote in Favor of Bill to Allow Hospitals to Continue Dangerous Nurse Staffing Practices That Harm Thousands of Patients Each Year

Measure Eliminates House Compromise Bill’s Call for Safe Staffing Standards and Patient Limits, Allowing Hospital Administrators to Continue to Set Their Own Staffing Levels

Nurses and patient advocates, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, are angered by the Senate vote yesterday (23 – 13) which will allow the state’s hospitals to continue the dangerous and deadly status quo. The new senate bill removes all key compromise provisions achieved through negotiations with legislators and key stakeholders which were contained in the nurse staffing bill that passed the House (119-35) on May 22. The House version called upon the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to create industry-wide staffing standards and patient limits to assure safe patient care in all Massachusetts hospitals.

The new Senate version continues to place hospital administrators in charge of setting their own staffing standards, a practice that has led to a health care crisis in Massachusetts, where more than 45,000 patients a year are injured and more than 2,000 patients – six a day – die from preventable infections and complications they get in the hospital. The Senate version also guts protections against the dangerous practice of mandatory overtime, which is key to preventing medication errors by exhausted staff.

“Today’s vote is nothing short of a travesty for patients who are suffering every day from hospital administrators who place their concern for the bottom line over a concern for patient safety,” said Beth Piknick, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “As long as nurses can be forced to care for 8 or 10 patients at one time, those patients will continue to receive sub-standard care. Safe, uniform nurse staffing limits must be established, and patients must receive the same standard of care in all Massachusetts hospitals. Otherwise, thousands of patients each year will continue to be harmed by avoidable medical errors and hospital infections, and too many of them will die.”

Under the new law, there will be no uniform standard of care, and instead, the Department of Public Health would be in charge of enforcing varying and inadequate standards created by the private sector hospital industry – including the for profit hospitals. Simply put; this legislation is a hazardous step backward, and will ensure that current unsafe conditions continue to deteriorate.

The new bill, S. 2805, will now move to the House/Senate conference committee, which will attempt to work out differences between the House and Senate versions. The Coalition and the MNA hold little hope for a compromise to be reached.

“We cannot and will not accept a watered down half measure that will only serve to exacerbate the current crisis,” said Piknick. “We intend to ensure that if any law is passed, it will be one with true staffing standards, real patient limits, and is designed in the best interests of our patients.”

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