Massachusetts could set patient assignment limits for nurses

Nurses could care for between one to six patients under the petition

BOSTON (WWLP)—A ballot question that would set limits for how many patients a Massachusetts nurse can care for at one time is still in the running for a spot on the 2018 ballot.

Registered nurses said they’re currently being forced by hospitals to care for too many patients at once. They’re pushing for Massachusetts to set statewide patient assignment limits.

“You should be able to get the same standard of care no matter what hospital you go to in the state,” said Karen Coughlin of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

If the ballot question is approved by voters, nurses could only care for one patient if they are under anesthesia, in intensive care or in maternal child care with medical complications. Nurses could care for up to five patients if those patients are in non-urgent stable condition or rehabilitation.

But the bill is facing opposition from some health care providers who are concerned setting these restrictions could be costly and take away hospital flexibility.

“Rigid nurse staffing ratios decided by government mandates aren’t the answer to this. We want hospitals to be able to decide and have the flexibility to decide their staffing,” spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety Dan Cence said.

Opponents believe the mandate could prevent hospital from being able to move nurses around during emergencies. And that it could hurt community hospitals.

The legislature will review the petition in the coming months and could approve it. If they don’t, the campaign supporters will have to gather an additional round of signatures for the question to make it onto the ballot.