November 7, 2018

Voters deny nurse staffing ratios ballot initiative

Photo/Grant Welker
UMass Memorial Health Care was among the hospital whose administrations were against Question 1. On Tuesday, 70 percent of voters rejected the proposed nurse staffing question.

Massachusetts voters swiftly rejected proposed standards on hospital nursing staff-to-patient ratios Tuesday, backing hospital administrations in their battle against a major nursing union.

Question 1 was voted down, 70 percent to 30 percent, according to The Associated Press. Voters in nearly every community in the state rejected the question, including in Worcester, where it failed 60 percent to 40 percent, the AP reported.

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, the hospital group that put millions of dollars into fighting the staffing proposal, lauded the results late Tuesday night.

"What we won tonight was the ability to continue providing the best possible care for patients throughout Massachusetts," Steve Walsh, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement.

"This is the beginning of a conversation, not the end. Question 1 forced some difficult and necessary discussions about the future of health care and the future of our workforce going forward," he said. "These conversations with our care teams and in our communities have been critically important and will continue in bargaining sessions, legislative debates, board rooms and newspapers. These are conversations we owe to the voters. Most importantly, these are conversations we owe to our patients."

The new standards, which would have went into effect starting Jan. 1, would have applied nurse-to-patient staffing ratios depending on specialty and the severity of a patient's condition.

In public polling, public sentiment against the question appeared to sour after a report in early October from the state's Health Policy Commission said the staffing standards would have increased costs for hospitals by up to $949 million a year.

Despite the setback, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which fought for the new standards, said it will continue fighting for better patient care.

"This issue is now in the public, finally outside the walls of the hospitals," Donna Kelly-Williams, the association president, said in a statement Tuesday night. "Nurses – in spite of aggressive intimidation by their employers – have engaged the public outside their workplace like never before."

"Along the way, hospitals have admitted there is a problem," Kelly-Williams added. "They just don't want to be held accountable with limits. We'll wait, along with those patients in harm's way, to see what their proposed solution is."

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