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Safe Patient Limits Initiative Inches Forward in MA

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

Hospital groups argue that such a mandate would be expensive and would take resources away from innovation. But Kelly-Williams says just the opposite is true: Hospitals would actually save money by reducing readmissions and complications by making sure that patients are properly cared for in the first place. And she points to California, where such mandates have been in practice for nearly a decade, as a success story.

"No hospital ever closed as a result of having this law in place in California," she says.

The ballot initiative is something of a backup plan. The Massachusetts Nurses Association has filed a companion bill in the legislature while also pursuing the ballot initiative; this allows nurses to take the issue directly to voters should the legislation fail to pass.

The Patient Safety Act would establish specific safe patient limits in Massachusetts for nurses in different units/departments of a hospital. For instance, the proposed law calls for a maximum of four patients for each nurse on a medical/surgical unit; between one and three patients depending on the severity of the patient conditions for nurses in the ED; and between one and two patients for nurses in critical care units. The legislation also calls for hospitals to be fined $25,000 for each day of noncompliance with the law.

The bill also attempts to work flexibility into the legislation by reducing maximum safe patient assignments if patients require more intensive care.

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