MNA, Coalition Re-Files Safe RN Staffing Bill

CANTON — The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), in conjunction with the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, announced that it has re-filed legislation that would require all Massachusetts hospitals to adhere to Department of Public Health (DPH)-established minimum registered nurses (RN)-to-patient ratios as a condition of licensure by DPH.


The legislation was passed favorably by the Legislature’s Joint Health Care Committee last session and a 10-hospital Pilot Program was passed in the Senate budget. The House Ways and Means Committee is currently in the process of creating a subcommittee to work on the bill.

The filing of the legislation follows the release of numerous research studies and reports that show understaffing of registered nurses is dangerous — mistakes, serious complications, and preventable errors occur when nurses are forced to care for too many patient at once.

“Passage of this legislation is key to improving care for our patients and to creating conditions that will retain and recruit the nurses we need to provide safe patient care,” said MNA President Karen Higgins, RN.

State Rep. Christine Canavan (D-Brock-ton), who is a registered nurse and vice chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care, is the lead sponsor for the bill, which is entitled “An Act Ensuring Patient Safety.” Canavan was also the chair of a special legislative commission that was formed in 2001 to study the crisis in nursing in Massachu-setts. The Commission’s top recommendation was the need to establish RN-to-patient ratios in hospitals.

The bill would protect Massachusetts patients by ensuring that they receive nursing care appropriate to the severity of their medical conditions. To ensure maximum flexibility, the bill also requires that the Department of Public Health develop an objective system for monitoring patient medical conditions so that staffing levels can be adjusted and improved to meet patient needs. The bill would set minimum staffing standards specific to every unit and department in a hospital to ensure that major disparities in care levels do not exist in the commonwealth’s hospitals, and specifically provides that nothing in the bill “shall be deemed to preclude any facility from increasing the number of direct-care registered nurses.”

The measure, which was nearly passed in the last legislative session, has won broad public support, with more than 80{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of Massachusetts voters in favor of the bill, according to a survey conducted in 2004. The MNA, along with 70 leading health care and consumer organizations, last year formed the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, which has been advocating for the passage of the bill. The coalition includes the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Health Care for All, League of Women Voters and the Mass. Senior Action Council.

The bill passed the Joint Committee on Health Care last year, and a compromised version of the bill passed the Senate as part of the budget process. Ultimately, after intense lobbying from the health care industry, the measure failed to be released for a vote by legislators. More than 102 legislators signed on as sponsors of the bill last year.

“The public wants this bill to pass, nearly every important health care advocacy groups wants this bill to pass, and a majority of legislators have put their name on this legislation,” said Higgins. “The time has come to end the needless suffering of patients in our hospitals. We are confident that this is the year this legislation will become law.”

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