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Patient Advocates & Nurses Decry Hospital Industry’s Continued Effort to Derail Legislation That Would Protect Patients and Save Lives
Data Shows Thousand of Patients Suffer from Substandard Care in Mass. Hospitals Due to Understaffing of Nurses; 2,000 Patients a Year Die from Preventable Medical Errors/Infections

Measure Calls for Safe Limits on Nurses’ Patient Assignments, Prohibits Mandatory Overtime and Includes Initiatives to Increase Nursing Faculty & Nursing Scholarships

BOSTON, Mass — The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, an alliance of over 130 leading health care and consumer groups, denounced efforts today by hospital industry executives to derail legislation – The Patient Safety Act (H. 4714) – which will dramatically improve the safety and quality of care in Massachusetts hospitals, prevent thousands of avoidable injuries and patient deaths, and save the hospitals millions of dollars spent treating complications caused by understaffing of registered nurses.

The Patient Safety Act calls upon the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to set safe limits on nurses’ patient assignments, and also prohibits mandatory overtime and includes initiatives to increase nursing faculty and nurse recruitment. Last week, the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing voted to approve the bill. House Speaker Sal DiMasi has scheduled a vote on the bill for May 21 or 22.

Today, hospital executives, who have consistently resisted setting reasonable limits on the number of patients a nurse is forced to care for at one time, are once again on Beacon Hill lobbying legislators to vote against this measure, which could restore safety to a system that is jeopardizing the care of hundreds of thousands of patients each year.

“The hospital industry’s effort to block this patient safety measure is deplorable,” said John McCormack, co-chair of the Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients and a parent whose infant daughter died as a result of a preventable medical error. “While they lobby against this bill, another patient is suffering needlessly for lack of proper nursing care.” For more than a decade, bedside nurses and patient safety advocates in Massachusetts have been sounding an alarm that patients are being harmed because nurses are forced to care for too many patients at one time.

A version of the safe staffing legislation was first introduced in 1994. Since the bill’s initial introduction, hospital-acquired infections and medical errors have soared, with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors now reporting that 2,000 people, or six people per day, are dying because of them every year in Massachusetts. A statewide survey conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation (ODC) released in conjunction with the hearing on the Patient Safety Act last October indicates that more than one-quarter (28 percent) of Massachusetts hospital patients and their families say that their safety, or a family member’s safety, was directly compromised by nurse understaffing. Based on the total number of hospital stays in the Commonwealth as tabulated by the state’s Department of Health Care, Finance and Policy, this translates into more than 235,000 Massachusetts patients annually whose safety is compromised by a lack of available nurses.

Overwhelming Scientific Evidence Supports Safe Staffing Bill

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies link the rise in hospital-acquired infections and other medical complications to understaffing of nurses. For example, a report published in the July 2007 issue of the journal Medical Care found that safe RN staffing levels could reduce hospital-acquired infections by 68 percent. An earlier 2005 study in the same journal found that safe staffing limits can also provide tremendous cost savings to hospitals by preventing costly complications and by dramatically reducing patients’ length of stay in the hospital.

“The scientific evidence is clear: Implementing safe staffing limits for nurses is not only cost effective, but it will save the industry millions of dollars,” said Karen Higgins, co-chair of the Coalition and a critical care nurse at Boston Medical Center. “The bill is even more important to hospitals given that the federal government and many insurers are now refusing to pay hospitals for complications resulting from inadequate care. Having a nurse there when a patient needs them is good for the patient, and it’s cost effective.”

Hospital Industry Approach is Misguided and Inadequate

At a time when patient safety is being increasingly endangered by RN understaffing, the state’s hospitals continue to post record surpluses of more than $1 billion each year for the last three years.

Instead of investing in safer nursing care, the Massachusetts hospital industry’s response to the patient safety crisis has been to create a “Patients First” web site that posts proposed nurse staffing “plans” with no guarantee that the staffing plans are accurate, and with no uniform standard of care that patients can expect in all hospitals.

The patients who responded to the ODC survey said the web site is of little or no value to them. Nearly 90 percent of recent hospital patients report that they did not have the time to research staffing levels prior to their hospital visits. In fact, only 14 percent were aware of the web site, and only 4 percent used it.

“Every day in hospitals across the Commonwealth, patients are suffering because of nurse understaffing,” said Higgins. “Every patient is at risk of getting dangerously sick in the hospital or dying because of avoidable substandard care because nurses are regularly forced to care for eight or ten patients when they cannot possibly give safe quality care to that many patients. A hospital-sponsored website, especially one that patients say they don’t use, is not going to solve this crisis.”

In May 2006, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed an earlier version of The Patient Safety Act by a margin of 133 to 20 but the bill was not taken up by the Senate.

The bill is co-sponsored by State Representative Christine Canavan (D-Brockton) and State Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton). The legislation resulted from a compromise crafted by the House leadership in 2006 over three days of negotiations involving both the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Massachusetts Hospital Association.

“This bill is a reasonable response to the patient safety crisis and includes provisions to address every concern raised by the hospital industry,” said Higgins

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P.O. Box 309 Canton Massachusetts 02021 617.522.3461