Safety Advocates of all Ages Urge Passage of “The Patient
Safety Act” at State House Hearing
Come Together to Expose Dangers of Hospital Understaffing
New Survey Showing Almost One-Quarter of A Million Massachusetts
Patients Per Year Feel Their Safety Has Been Compromised in Bay
MA – Armed with new statistics on patients’ increased
concern over quality care in Massachusetts hospitals as well as
evidence linking disease and deaths to poor patient oversight,
hundreds of elderly Massachusetts residents, mothers and children,
nurses, and other consumer and health-care advocates from across
the state converged on the State House this morning to urge passage
of The Patient Safety Act, House Bill 2059, at a hearing before
the Joint Committee on Health Care. The Bill would set limits
on the number of patients a nurse can be forced to care for at
more than a decade, bedside nurses in Massachusetts have been
sounding an alarm that patients are being harmed because nurses
are being 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 Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) now reporting that 2,000 people, or 6 people
per day, are dying because of them every year in Massachusetts.
Nationally, 2 million people are harmed by hospital-acquired infection
and medical error, and nearly 100,000 of them die each year. As
of today, more patients are killed each year by hospital-acquired
infections than by AIDS and breast cancer combined.
A statewide survey conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation (ODC)
and released in conjunction with the hearing 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.
In addition, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of past patients
agree that the overall quality of patient care in Massachusetts
hospitals is suffering because nurses are forced to care for too
many patients at once. And more than one-third (35 percent) of
these past patients and their families say that their nurse had
too many patients to care for during a recent hospital stay.
patients are saying loudly and clearly that they are concerned
about the impact that the persistent understaffing of nurses in
Massachusetts hospitals is having on the safety of their care
during their hospital stay,” said John McCormack, the co-chair
of The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts Patients, which comprises
more than 120 leading health-care and consumer organizations.
“My baby daughter, Taylor, died in 2000 at the age of two
in a Boston hospital because she didn’t get the care she needed.
When I carried her to the hospital morgue, I promised her that
I would fight my hardest so that this wouldn’t happen to another
The elderly and the parents of young children have coalesced around
the issue of setting safe limits on nurses’ patient loads
because those populations (seniors and children) are most at risk
of contracting hospital-acquired infections.
John Bennett, president of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council,
is disturbed by the fact that so many of the state’s elderly
are at risk for injury or harm in the hospital as a result of
an older citizen and leader of a grassroots organization of seniors,
I have been continually hearing complaints from our members about
problems they and their family members have experienced as a result
of nurse understaffing,” Bennett said. “Members of my own family
have been hospitalized and over the years I have watched the care
they received deteriorate – not because nurses don’t care or aren’t
working hard, but precisely because they are working too hard,
running from patient to patient to doing what they need to do.
The suffering the lack of nursing care causes is unacceptable.”
A number of studies link the rise in hospital-acquired infections
and other medical complications to understaffing of nurses, including
one published in the July issue of the journal Medical Care that
found that safer RN staffing levels could reduce hospital acquired
infections by 68 percent.
hospital industry’s mantra every year for more than a dozen years
has been, ’Leave it to us to fix this problem. We know best’,”
said Karen Higgins, co-chair of The Coalition to Protect Massachusetts
Patients. “ While we have waited for the hospitals to ’fix
it,’ thousands of patients have died and continue to die
throughout the Commonwealth. The time for waiting is over. The
Commonwealth’s hospital patients and their families can’t afford
to wait any longer.”
The Patient Safety Act (HB 2059) would improve hospital conditions
by setting a rational, safe limit on the number of patients a
nurse can be forced to care for at one time, while also creating
initiatives to increase nursing faculty and nurse recruitment.
Similar legislation to set safe patient limits was passed in California
and was implemented in 2004. Testimony about the bill’s
success in California was presented by a panel of frontline nurses
from California and by Karin Berntsen, RN, BSN, a California nurse
administrator and one of the nation’s leading patient safety
National Patient Safety Expert and California Nurse Administrator
Endorses Mass Staffing Bill
Contradicting assertions by the hospital industry that the bill
is inflexible and the wrong approach to improving patient safety,
Karin Berntsen testified about the success of the California law
and said that the Patient Safety Act introduced in Massachusetts
is even better than the California legislation.
Ms. Berntsen, the author of the books The Patients Guide to Preventing
Medical Errors and Fatal Care, testified that she observes a “Massachusetts
understaffing crisis,” and that Massachusetts hospitals
“approach is counterproductive and dangerous to patients.”
of the nation’s leading organizations on patient safety, the Agency
for Healthcare Research and Quality, examined over 90 studies
on nurse staffing and reported that reducing the number of patients
a nurse cares for at one time is associated with reduced hospital
mortality and reduced adverse patient events,“ she said.
“Furthermore, The Patient Safety Act has been well thought
out and builds in the principles of improved safety and efficiency,
including a balanced approach to nurse staffing, ramping up of
the staffing requirements, and supporting nurse recruiting to
assist with the bedside nursing shortage,” Ms. Berntsen
added. “The legislation is flexible, and promotes staffing
plans that are balanced for all hospitals,” she concluded.
Presented at Hearing Calls the Hospital Industry’s Solutions Into
At a time when patient safety is being increasingly endangered
by RN understaffing, the state’s hospitals continue to post
record profits of nearly a half-billion dollars for the first
six months of 2007 – a 35 percent increase over the previous year’s
second quarter profits. If the trend continues, the hospital industry
is poised to record its third straight year of profits in excess
of $1 billion.
Instead of investing in safer nursing care, the Massachusetts
hospital industry’s response to the mounting death toll 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% were aware of the web site, and only 4 percent used it.
Audrey Heath, a senior from Worcester, said she was insulted by
the assumption that she would be able to check a web site to safeguard
her hospital stay. “You think I have time to look at a web
site when I’m on my way to the hospital? Most people my age are
in serious condition when they arrive at the hospital. They’re
not thinking about the internet.”
The Patient Safety Act is co-sponsored by State Senator Marc Pacheco
(D-Taunton) and State Representative Christine Canavan (D-Brockton).