Safe Patient Limits Save Lives

In response to deteriorating patient care conditions in Massachusetts acute care hospitals the Campaign to Ensure Safe Patient Care is working to establish regulations that set a safe maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, while providing hospitals the flexibility to adjust nurses’ patient assignments based on the specific needs of the patients.

  • This past year, our campaign was successful in passing a landmark law that will dramatically improve the care for the state’s most critically ill patients.  The new law–An Act for Patient Limits in All Hospital Intensive Care Units–requires Massachusetts’ hospitals to adhere to safe patients limits for registered nurses who work in the state’s hospital intensive care units, ensuring that no nurse can be assigned more than one patient at a time, or when it is safe to do so, a maximum of two patients.
  • Unfortunately, outside of intensive care units, there is NO LAW and there are no 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 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 pass a law–Patient Safety Act (H.1958), to set maximum safe patient limits for nurses for all different types of units/departments in a hospital.
  • For example, such a law would guarantee one nurse for every four patients in medical/surgical units, where most patient care takes place.  In emergency departments, the proposed regulations would require nurses to care for between one and three patients depending on the severity of the patient’s condition.
  • To provide flexibility in staffing and to account for patients who require more care, the initiative calls for the creation of a system to evaluate the patient’s needs for care, and for hospitals to adjust the RNs patient assignment should that patient require closer monitoring to stay safe.

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