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Safe Patient Limits Initiative Inches Forward in MA

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, September 17, 2013

"It's not just that one patient that's put in harm's way," she says. "It's all of the patients at that point."

Nurses in Massachusetts are waging a battle to establish safe maximum patient limits, and they've achieved the first step in that fight: The Massachusetts Attorney General's office has certified a safe patient limit ballot initiative, which means the initiative's language has passed constitutional standards. Now, nurses are getting ready to gather the nearly 70,000 petition signatures they'll need to put patient limits on the ballot in 2014.

"I don't think we're going to have any difficulty getting the signatures," Kelly-Williams says. What might be more challenging is convincing Massachusetts voters, i.e., potential patients, why they should ultimately vote for this change.

"That's what so critical about this… just having the voters understand how critical this is," she says. And she also wants voters to understand that for all the arguments they'll hear for supporting maximum patient limits, they will also hear opposition that's as loud—if not louder—than what nurses are advocating for.

In fact, it's this opposition—mostly from hospital associations—that has prevented previous attempts at mandated safe patient limits from making it through the Massachusetts legislature, Kelly-Williams says.

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