How Many Patients Does One Nurse Treat: Ballot Question On Staffing

“Just Ask!” That’s the slogan for a new campaign by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA). The union is encouraging people to ask how many other patients their nurses will be treating that day. The slogan is meant to draw awareness to what the nurses union sees as a growing disconnect between the profit-driven healthcare industry and the quality care of its patients.

Alex E. Proimos/flickr

Alex E. Proimos/flickr

The campaign’s goal is to enact minimum mandatory staffing levels, capping the number of patients per nurse. After a similar measure failed to pass the state legislature in 2008, the MNA wants to take the issue directly to voters through a ballot initiative. The union has submitted the text of the Patient Safety Act to the Attorney General’s Office; the act’s terms include limiting nurses to having up to four patients in surgical units and in emergency rooms. Once approved, the union will need to collect 70,000 signatures by November for the Patient Safety Act to appear on the 2014 ballot.

Currently, California is the only state that has mandated nurse-patient ratios. However, this topic may well seem familiar to Mass. voters: state nurses have sought staffing legislation since 1995, and 2011 saw fraught contract negotiations between Tufts Medical Center and its nurses. CommonHealth analyzed how Tufts’ lower nurse ratio affected patient care.

Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, alluded to the idea’s long history by calling the current initiative petition a “repeat of an arcane idea that has no merit” in a statement. She said that patients would be better served by having decisions about their care made on a case-by-case basis. Her reactions echoed those of  Michael Sack, President and CEO of Hallmark Health, who wrote an earlier guest post on CommonHealth. “This cookie-cutter approach would completely take away a hospital’s ability to tailor care to specific patient needs,” Sack wrote.

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  • Mary Jo Irescuerotties

    A case by case basis would be lovely, the problem is that it will never happen. Ask any nurse who has struggled with a critical patient while simultaneously getting a call from bed control informing her that she will be getting a new admission in a few minutes. As far as the workload being tailored to specific patient needs, “do the best you can” is usually the refrain from the higher-ups.