Monday, December 06, 2004

Schwarzenegger Delays California Nurse Staff Ratios

According to Kim Belshé, secretary of the California Health and Human Services agency, "Patient safety is a top priority for this administration."

Hmm. Funny way to show it.

In a recent post about the nursing shortage, I noted that California had recently mandated a ratio of no more than six patients to every nurse. The new staff limits were supposed to take effect January 1, 2005. Several readers wrote to point out that Governor Schwarzenegger had in fact given hospitals a three year "reprieve" from meeting stricter staffing rules on general medical wards.

And it gets worse.

DHS also would allow hospitals to suspend temporarily compliance with nurse staffing rules for EDs [emergency departments] in the event of an "unforeseeable influx" of patients. In addition, DHS proposed reversing a requirement that hospitals replace nurses on bathroom breaks.
California Nurses Association President Deborah Burger, accuses Schwarzenegger of caving into the powerful health care industry. Rejecting accusations that the ratios will worsen the nursing shortage and cause hospitals to close down, Burger wrote in a San Diego Union opinion piece:
In its first year, the law produced safer conditions in over 70 percent of California hospitals and the first real progress in stemming a seemingly intractable nursing shortage.

Since the law was signed, the number of actively licensed registered nurses in California has grown by over 43,000; seven times the number the state said would be needed for the ratios. For the first time in a decade more registered nurses are coming into the state than leaving. Hospitals that comply with the law have seen huge drops in registered nurse vacancy and turnover rates.
Unions are putting their money -- and their feet -- where their mouths are:

In a day of protest, as many as 6,700 workers at nine Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area went on strike Wednesday, while about 2,000 nurses marched on the state Capitol over changes to a hospital staffing law.

The workers aimed to spotlight alleged unfair labor practices and a governor who supports those practices.

As many as 4,000 nurse's aides, technicians, housekeepers and other hospital staff represented by Service Employees International Union locals 250 and 707 participated in the 24-hour strike.

In addition, about 2,700 registered nurses who are members of the California Nurses Association struck at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where their contract has expired, and at Alta Bates Summit in Berkeley and Oakland and Sutter Solano in Vallejo.