2014 News Archive

Governor Signs Landmark Law to Protect Patients by Setting Safe Patient Limits for Nurses in all Intensive Care Units


CANTON, Mass. – Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today signed a landmark law that will establish safe patient limits for registered nurses who work in all the state’s hospital intensive care units, ensuring that no nurse can be assigned more than one patient or in certain circumstances, no more than two patients based on the assessment of the nurses on that unit.

The Governor’s signing followed unanimous votes in favor of the measure in the House and Senate last week. 
"This is a landmark victory for patient safety,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United following the signing. “This measure will protect the most critically ill patients and it breaks the decade-long logjam on Beacon Hill over the issue of establishing an enforceable maximum limit on the number of patients a nurse can care for at one time. More importantly, it moves us closer to our ultimate goal, which is to extend safe patient limits beyond the ICUs to all other units of our hospitals to protect all patients.”

The law responds to the fact that dozens of research studies have found that safe patient limits for nurses is the key to improving the care and safety of patients, leading to fewer patient complications, shorter hospital stays, lower readmission rates and higher patient satisfaction, while also saving millions of dollars due to these improved patient outcomes. 

The new law, An Act for Patient Limits in All Hospital Intensive Care Units, applies to every type of intensive care unit in all the state’s hospitals. The law will also establish criteria for an “acuity tool” to be used by all hospitals to assist staff nurses in determining if their patient is stable enough to allow for a second patient to be added to the nurses’ assignment. The state’s Health Policy Commission will regulate the implementation of the proposed law, including the formulation of the acuity tool, the method of public reporting of staffing compliance in hospital ICUs, and the identification of three to five patient safety quality indicators

“We applaud the Governor, the House of Representatives and the State Senate for their work on behalf of Massachusetts patients,” said Kelly-Williams. “We thank Senate Majority Leader Rosenberg, Senate President Murray, Speaker DeLeo and Representative Denise Garlick for their leadership on this issue"

State Representative Denise Garlick, RN said "The historic passage of this landmark legislation is testimony to the leadership of Speaker  DeLeo and Majority Leader Rosenberg who seized the opportunity to ensure quality care for patients in ICUs in all hospitals. Their steadfast commitment to finding solutions is in the very best interest of the patients of the Commonwealth in both our teaching and valued community hospitals.”

With the Governor’s signing of the law, the MNA/NNU has agreed to pull its ballot initiatives -- the Patient Safety Act and the Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness Act. The MNA/NNU had gathered more than enough signatures to place both measures on the ballot this November.

Having established a foundation for safe patient limits for intensive care units with the new law, the MNA/NNU plans to introduce legislation to extend patient limits to all other hospital units in the next legislative session. The organization also plans to introduce the Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness Act in the next session. Both  measures have received strong interest and support from legislators and the general public.

More information on this historic step: