Nurses Face Unsafe Patient Care Burdens, Advocates Claim
BY MARY SERREZE
NORTHAMPTON — A coalition of labor and patient care advocates held a news conference outside of Cooley Dickinson Hospital on Monday, saying that Massachusetts patients are at risk because of nursing staff cutbacks.
The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, a group that includes both labor organizations and health advocates, urged support for the Patient Safety Act (HB 1469), which would establish limits on the number of patients assigned to a registered nurse at any one time.
“Every day, six patients die in Massachusetts hospitals because of preventable medical errors,” said Jon Weissman, spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients.
Over the past 10 years, various versions of the staffing bill have died in the Senate, facing opposition from the health care industry lobby.
The Cooley Dickinson Hospital, in a prepared statement, said that it opposes government-mandated one-size-fits all nursing ratios, saying that such “arbitrary, fixed, universal numbers run counter to the flexible, coordinated care demanded by patient needs.”
Ward One City Councilor Maureen Carney, vice president of the Hampshire/Franklin Central Labor Council, said that establishing minimum nursing ratios is not only a labor issue, but a public safety issue.
“Residents here in the city and our union members across the county have told me horrific stories about what has happened to them and their loved ones because their nurse had too many patients to care for at one time,” she said.
Nurses at Cooley Dickinson want ratios written into union contract
Even if the Patient Safety Act doesn’t make it through the legislature, nurses at Cooley Dickinson Hospital want minimum patient care ratios written into their union contract this time around, said registered nurse Carol Ahearn.
“We have been in negotiations for over a year, and are trying to pass our own plan for patient safety ratios, but the hospital looked at it and that’s all they did; they didn’t respond,” she said.
Cooley Dickinson, which has laid off about 200 employees over the past three years, is currently entertaining buyout offers from Baystate Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the for-profit Vanguard health Systems.
In recent months, negotiations between the union and the hospital have broken down.
Ahearn said she is hopeful that the nurses and the hospital will be able to settle on an agreement before the hospital is sold this fall, but that three issues remain unresolved: an agreement on benefits, the crafting of a “successor contract” clause that would force any new owner to honor the nurses’ contract, and the patient-to-nurse ratio provision.
A related bill (HB 1506) before the legislature would ban the practice of forcing nurses to work overtime, with the goal of protecting patients from preventable medical errors.
“Forced overtime has become the primary method of addressing staffing problems, instead of hiring, and it’s endemic across the hospital industry,” said Weissman.
The Massachusetts Hospital Association has been working against the Patient Safety Bill, saying that hospitals are adequately and competently staffed, and that its implementation would lead to an additional $200-$500 million in additional costs.
Both bills are being heard before the state legislature’s joint committee on healthcare this week.
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Mary Serreze can be reached at email@example.com