Physicians Say Mandatory Nurse Staffing Ratios Will Hinder ED Care

In an op-ed published last week, three emergency medicine physicians strongly opposed a proposed ballot initiative to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios.

There is a battle brewing in Massachusetts over nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, which will be decided at the ballot box this November. Question 1, also known as the Nurse-Patient Assignment Limits Initiative, was proposed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and is part of a larger fight nurses nationwide have been waging for years in an effort to secure safer staffing ratios. However, an op-ed written by three emergency medicine physicians and published last week in SouthCoast Today, says the mandated nurse staffing ratios could hinder quality of care and patient safety efforts.

The physicians—Jennifer Pope, MD, Chair of the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s Hospital, Brian Tsang, MD, Chair of the Emergency Departments at Charlton Memorial Hospital and Tobey Hospital, and Matt Bivens, MD, EMS Medical Director of Southcoast Health hospitals—called the state’s ballot initiative for mandated nurse staffing ratios “a disaster-in-waiting for Massachusetts, especially for emergency departments,” in their op-ed.

“Question One on the November ballot to mandate a government-set nursing-patient ratio invites us to discard what already works, and instead adopt the California model — in fact, a far more extreme version of that model, because of the aggressive proposed timeline. What would happen in the emergency departments?” the op-ed asks.

The physicians postulate what would come next—hospitals will let go of support staff, patients will be rushed in and out of the hospital more aggressively, emergency department waiting room times will soar.

The physicians said, in conclusion, “We worry this will cost jobs of ancillary staff, burden nurses with more low-skilled work, block patients in waiting rooms, rush patients out of the hospitals early, and break systems across the state that are already known for high-quality patient safety and care. We will vote no on Question One.”

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.