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Boston and Beyond

June 27, 2014

Lawmakers rush ICU staffing bill to governor's desk

BOSTON - Nurses working in intensive care units will care for only one patient at a time, except in certain circumstances, under legislation approved unanimously in both the House and the Senate and now headed to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The Senate passed the legislation Thursday, less than 24 hours after it cleared the House. The bill dictates nurse staff levels in intensive care units, and emerged after talks between the statewide nurses’ association and hospital groups to avert a fight over a broader nurse staffing plan headed for the November ballot.

The Massachusetts Nurses’ Association (MNA) agreed to drop two ballot questions, one related to nurse staffing levels and a second question regulating CEO compensation, annual operating margins and financial asset disclosures of hospitals.

David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the MNA, said the nurses agreed to also drop the ballot question on CEO pay and hospital transparency, despite recently launching a radio and advertising campaign, because they are confident lawmakers will consider legislation on the issue in the future.

“We feel confident we can move this in the coming legislative session given there is so much discussion about that lack of transparency in hospital finances, and the fact there is such an unfair distribution of hospital resources,” Schildmeier told the News Service.

The compromise followed a years-long logjam on the issue on Beacon Hill.

“Something that looked like it came about quickly was actually 15 years in the making,” said Rep. Denise Garlick, a Democrat from Needham and nurse who was instrumental in forging the agreement.

Nurses turned to the ballot after fighting for nearly 15 years to limit the number of patients they care for at any one time. Hospital organizations have argued mandated staffing levels had no merit, and would unnecessarily tie their hands in staffing decisions.

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