Nurse staffing ballot question set for November

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2018 11:20:47 PM

ATHOL — The Patient Safety Act, which would set a limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, has secured a spot on the November 2018 ballot, but local hospitals in the North Quabbin express concern over the mandate.

“I have been a nurse practitioner for 20 years and a nurse for 30 years and I don’t feel this mandate will improve quality care,” said Tina Griffin, chief operating officer of Athol Hospital.

According to the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care, which drafted the proposed law, the Secretary of the Commonwealth notified the committee the office certified 18,145 signatures in favor of the safety act. Taylor Maher, spokesperson for the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care, said not having a patient to staff ratio puts patients at risk for medical errors and possible costly re-admissions.

“It would dramatically improve patient safety and also provide flexibility to adjust the nurses’ patient assignments based on the specific patient’s needs,” she said.

But Griffin said in the local region if the act passes, access and services at the Heywood and Athol Hospitals will change dramatically, including time spent in waiting rooms and the autonomy for care providers on the ground. She said if the two hospitals cannot support the patients that come in, they may have to travel to larger institutions father away with more nurses for care.

“People in these areas have transportation issues, we’ve run into it a lot where it is difficult for them to get to Boston, Springfield, Worcester even. And then it might become the norm,” said Griffin.

A report by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, which opposes the ballot question, found the policy, if passed, would cost the health care system $1.3 billion the first year and about $900 million annual each year thereafter.

Any facility that refuses to comply with the act will be fined up to $25,000 for each day the law is violated, according to the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care.

The report by Mass Insight Global Partnerships and BW Research Partnership, commissioned by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, also found the act would require hiring 5,911 registered nurses within 37 business days. If passed, the act would take effect on January 1, 2019.

Winfield Brown, chief executive officer of Heywood Healthcare, said the two hospitals wouldn’t be able to meet the nurse to patient ratio due to funding.

“We need informed voters because be careful what you vote for,” he said.

Brown said the hospitals in the near future will release information regarding the exact changes the hospital may face if the act passes. Maher said the committee will continue to push Massachusetts residents to vote yes on the ballot question come November.

“This has been a long time coming.. we have a lot of nurses on the ground, they are going to be hitting the doors out there and talking to their families and friends. They are really getting involved,” she said.

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