Get the Facts
What is this proposal?
The ballot proposal would impose rigid, expensive and scientifically unproven Registered Nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in all units, at all times, at every hospital across Massachusetts. Ratios would be the same in every hospital, regardless of their size, location or the unique needs of their patients. Staffing decisions would be taken out of the hands of experienced nurses and doctors at the bedside and put in the hands of a bureaucratic government mandate.
Mandated ratios would disregard the professional judgment of qualified healthcare professionals in each hospital, threaten the quality of care, and increase costs to patients.
The initiative would conservatively cost well over $800 million annually, increasing taxes and raising copays, out-of-pocket spending and other insurance increases for families and small businesses at a time when the focus should be on controlling cost.
Who is behind this proposal?
One Massachusetts nurses’ union, which represents less than 25 percent of the nurses in the state, has been pushing this proposal unsuccessfully on Beacon Hill for more than 20 years. Now the union is waging a costly, divisive and disingenuous campaign to force the government to impose arbitrary and scientifically unproven staffing requirements through the ballot box. While the proposal may increase the coffers and membership of this one particular union, it will only destabilize our healthcare system without any improvement to patient care.
Who opposes this proposal?
Concerned by the many negative impacts this scientifically unsound and costly measure would have, Massachusetts hospitals, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals have come together to form the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety. This organization is growing by the day and already includes: Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association; Organization of Nurse Leaders; ANA Massachusetts (the state chapter of the American Nurses Association); Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals; and Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals.
How does hospital staffing work now?
It takes a team — and flexibility — to care for patients.
Today, teams of experienced healthcare professionals in each hospital have the flexibility to deploy resources at the bedside where life-and-death decisions are made, often in seconds, based on the unique and ever-changing needs of each patient.
The proposed law would remove real-time decision-making power from nurses and caregiving teams and put it in the hands of a rigid government mandate. There are no exceptions to the nurse-to-patient ratios, despite patient circumstances. If a hospital cannot provide enough nurses to fulfill these ratios every minute of the day, it will be forced to limit services provided and face steep and punitive fines.
How would this affect my local hospital?
This ballot proposal would have a severe, negative impact on every hospital in Massachusetts.
The one-size-fits-all ratios, imposed regardless of a hospital’s size, location or the individual needs of its patients, would result in longer wait times, reduced patient services and higher operating costs within every hospital across the state.
Our healthcare system can’t afford the price tag for this unproven proposal, projected at well over $800 million annually. If this ballot question is approved by voters, many of our state’s financially vulnerable community hospitals will be forced to close.
To meet the staggering cost of this unfunded rigid mandate, hospitals would have to cut vital community health programs such as cancer screenings, opioid treatment and prevention, early childhood intervention, domestic violence programs and pre- and post-natal care.
Would this affect the cost of my healthcare?
Yes. The cost of this expensive unfunded law would be passed along to consumers through higher insurance premiums, copays, deductibles and taxes. Massachusetts families and businesses are already struggling to pay for healthcare and are facing additional federal cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other critical healthcare resources. This ballot question will make things worse.
Is there any evidence this would improve the quality of my healthcare?
No. Massachusetts is home to some of the highest-ranking hospitals in the world, and consistently tops national rankings for health and quality of care. There are no scientific studies or reports that credibly show that this mandate will improve the quality of care for patients in Massachusetts. There are also no studies that support or recommend specific, at-all-times ratios for nurses.
Setting arbitrary, rigid ratios ignores the many variations in patient care, including differences in nurses’ education and experience, ever-changing patient conditions, the composition of the entire care team and the varying technologies and physical attributes of different facilities.
Is there any evidence that nurse-to-patient ratios really work?
There are no scientific studies or reports that demonstrate the effectiveness of this government-forced, one-size-fits-all nurse staffing in improving quality of care. None of the studies that address nurse staffing recommend a specific formula that would improve patient outcomes or validate any arguments for this proposal.
In California, the only state that has imposed mandated ratios, there is no evidence it has improved the quality of care. In fact, Massachusetts hospitals already equal or exceed California hospitals in nearly every meaningful measure of patient care.
How would this affect wait times, including in the emergency room?
This proposed mandate would dramatically increase emergency room wait times and delay services throughout the hospital, including those that are time-sensitive and life-saving. Even more disturbing, hospitals would be penalized if they don’t turn patients away or stop admitting them during busy periods.
What would happen when smaller rural and suburban hospitals are faced with local emergencies?
There are no exceptions to this mandate. The law would prevent hospitals from having any flexibility to make essential and last-minute changes, even in the event of an unexpected influx of patients due to a multi-car crash, large fire, shooting incident or multiple opioid overdoses. By penalizing hospitals if they admit more patients when the number of nurses on duty at that moment does not meet the statewide mandate, this ballot question would force people to seek care elsewhere — costing precious time that is crucial to life-saving care and personal health.