News & Events

Nurses to Testify Tuesday at State House on Bills to Protect Patients from Unsafe Medication Administration and Caretakers During Emergency Response

BOSTON, Mass. – Registered nurses will testify on Tuesday at the State House in favor of two separate pieces of legislation to keep patients safe when they receive medicine and protect the professional practice of nurses during disaster responses in Massachusetts.

What:    A hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Health.

When:    12 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019

Where: Rooms A-1 and A-2 at the State House, Boston.

Bill Information: An Act to Ensure Safe Medication Administration (S. 1328/H. 1886), sponsored by Sen. Marc Pacheco and Rep. Daniel Donahue, and An Act Relative to Liability Protection for Disaster Volunteers (S.1340/H.1888), sponsored by Sen. Michael Rush and Rep. Sean Garballey

Safe Medication Administration

Three years ago, the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker proposed regulation changes that could have opened the door to unlicensed personnel administering complex medication to patients in many different healthcare settings. Nurses, patients and advocates successfully pushed back against that proposal. This legislation is necessary to prohibit any misinterpretation of the Controlled Substances Act (M.G.L. Chapter 94C) that could result in the use of unlicensed persons administering medication in the interest of efficiency or cost savings.

Donna Stern, a registered psychiatric nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, has been both a licensed and unlicensed caretaker. Prior to her 14.5 years as an RN, Stern was a residential worker at a psychiatric group home in Maine where she administered medication.

“I always felt uneasy dispensing powerful medications to patients with little, if any, knowledge about the effects of the medication or drug interactions,” Stern said. “Before I was a registered nurse, when I was working as a residential worker, I underwent a one-day training to learn how to dispense medications. Now I have undergone more than 45 classroom hours of instruction in pharmacology, completed an internship, completed a preceptorship and have years of experience working in my field. I am trained in pharmacology – in other words, I know how a medication works on the body and how the body works on the medication. The difference is night and day.”

“There is a proper way to administer medication whether you are in a nursing home, or hospital, or in a home care setting, and eliminating these protections will lead to costly medication errors, complications, and harm to patients,” Stern said. “Registered nurses are trained specifically to do this job. Unlicensed personnel simply do not have this training and shifting this responsibility to unlicensed workers will harm patients.”

This legislation would:

  • Ensure that only licensed professionals, including nurses, dentists, physicians and optometrists or any student enrolled in a course of study for said profession acting under the supervision of said licensed person, may administer any controlled substances.

This legislation would NOT prohibit:

  • Self-administration
  • Administration of epinephrine pens in an emergency
  • Administration of controlled substances by emergency medical system personnel or
  • Administration of controlled substances by any ill, injured or infirmed person's domestic partner or family member(s)

Liability Protection for Disaster Volunteers

When deploying to disasters as part of a federal medical disaster team, nurses become temporary government employees and gain protections against civil and criminal liability and inappropriate licensing discipline. The same is not true for nurses responding to Massachusetts emergencies.

“Disaster deployment is not a usual day at the hospital.  Anything and everything can happen, and you have to adjust continuously,” said Betty Sparks, a registered nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital who has responded to numerous catastrophes, including many hurricanes, the Haitian earthquake of 2010 and the Boston Marathon Bombings.

“Your decisions are based on how you can help the most people, meaning that you may have to sidestep the more seriously injured so you can help more people quickly,” Sparks said. “This is different from how we practice day-to-day in our hospitals. As we saw in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the nurses and doctors were judged on how care would normally be delivered, but they were not in a normal situation at the time – there is no comparison! This resulted in their licenses to practice being put in jeopardy for doing the best they could in a very unstable situation.”

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Rush, D-West Roxbury and Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington, would apply to any official call for nurse volunteers, but is intended particularly to facilitate nurse volunteers who are often desperately needed to staff emergency shelters. There are three ways that this bill will protect nurses who volunteer in disasters:

  • The bill offers protection from civil or criminal liability and/or prosecution for injury or harm caused to a patient.
  • The bill would protect nurses who are injured or harmed personally as the result of his/her volunteer service.
  • The bill will protect nurses from inappropriate Massachusetts Licensure board discipline.

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.