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Nurse Staffing Battle Rages On in Massachusetts

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, April 1, 2014

Like it or not, the question of whether maximum nurse-patient staffing ratios should be mandated by law may go before Bay State voters in November.


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The call to increase nurse staffing is loud and clear, but is the solution to place limits on the maximum number of patients a nurse can care for? So far, only one state, California, has said yes to that question.

An emergency measure appeared briefly this month before the city council in the District of Columbia before being withdrawn. But now, a proposed safe patient limit for Massachusetts nurses is likely heading to voters in November.

"We are moving it to the ballot in November 2014 unless the legislature acts in the meantime before July," David Schildmeier, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United told me. He says MNA's work to pass the Patient Safety Act, "would set standards for the maximum number of patients that can be safely cared for by hospital nurses at any one time, while providing hospitals with the flexibility to adjust staffing based on patients' needs."

During a hearing last week, Massachusetts lawmakers heard testimony from nurses, researchers, patients, and others who support the passage of such a law. Although Schildmeier says it's unclear whether the legislature will act on passing the law itself, MNA is proceeding with the ballot initiative in the meantime.

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