Safe Patient Limits Save Lives

Proposed Ballot Initiative to Ensure Safe Patient Care

In response to deteriorating patient care conditions in Massachusetts acute care hospitals the Massachusetts Nurses Association, along with other concerned residents, caregivers and advocates, is working to establish regulations that set a safe maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, while also providing hospitals the flexibility to adjust nurses’ patient assignments based on the specific needs of the patient.

  • While the Commonwealth is recognized as a national leader in health care research, as well as one of the most expensive providers of hospital care in the nation, our state's hospitals rank near the bottom nationally in a number of indicators of patient safety and quality care.
  • A survey of Massachusetts nurses completed this month found that more than 80 percent of nurses report that patients in our state's hospitals are suffering due to their nurse having too many patients to care for at one time. More than 75 percent of Massachusetts nurses report an increase in medical errors due to unsafe patient assignments, more than 63 percent report injury or harm to a patient, and a shocking 30 percent report they are aware of patient deaths directly attributable to nurses having too many patients assigned to them at one time.
  • ​Unfortunately, outside of intensive care units, there is NO LAW and there are no enforceable standards in existence for the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse at one time in all other patient care areas in Massachusetts hospitals, and there are no requirements for hospitals to provide an adequate level of nursing care in such areas as the emergency department, medical-surgical floors, maternity units or psychiatric units.
  • It is not uncommon for nurses in Massachusetts to have six, seven or even eight patients at a time, when a safe limit would be no more than four patients for a nurse on a typical medical/surgical floor.
  • When you or a loved one are hospitalized, the person most responsible for your care and your safety is your assigned registered nurse, who is there to monitor your condition from minute-to-minute, and when necessary, to take immediate steps to improve your condition or even save your life.
  • Dozens of studies published in the most prominent medical journals show beyond any doubt the need to set a maximum limit on the number of patients that can be assigned to each registered nurse if we are to avoid mistakes, serious complications and preventable readmissions.
  • Having established safe patient limits in the hospital ICUs, we are now looking to develop a ballot initiative for 2018 that would set maximum safe patient limits for each type of unit/department in a hospital.

The establishment of enforceable, safe patient limits would reduce errors, limit injuries and save lives. We hope you will support and join this effort to improve the quality and safety of care for all patients in the Commonwealth.

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