Nurses, Hospitals Continue To Disagree On Staffing Levels


By Don Davis

Nurses and the Minnesota Hospital Association appeared to have stitched together a deal late last week on a proposal that originally would have required specific nurse staffing levels.

But on Monday, it was back to the operating room to work on a state legislative bill that would study the relationship between the number of nurses on a hospital staff and patient care.

The two sides did agree, however, that this year there would be no bill requiring specific levels of nurse staffing.

The disagreement has gone on for years, with nurses complaining that hospitals do not have enough of them on staff to properly handle patients. They say that results in health problems.

The hospitals say patients are recovering better than ever, and increasing nurse staffing is not the only criteria to improving care. Minnesota already is near the top in hospital care, hospital officials say.

With strong hospital opposition to the state requiring a nurse staffing level, a House committee Friday approved a compromise that removed the requirement but would require data to be released showing possible links between staffing shortages and patient problems.

On Monday, a Senate committee considered, then delayed action on a bill to release similar data and to order the state to study the issue.

Nurses are confident that a study would show hospitals do not have enough of them.

“There is inadequate staffing by nurses that are under-oriented,” Executive Director Walt Frederickson of the Minnesota Nurses Association told the committee.

Patients do not know they are at risk, he added. “Adequate nursing staffing helps patient outcomes.”

Twin Cities nurse Mary Turner said major changes are needed because in her intensive care unit there is a nurse shortage. She also said that too many nurses are temporarily assigned to the unit from other parts of the hospital and are not familiar with intensive care procedures.

“We can’t tweak healing,” she said in support of calling for big changes.

Data hospitals would be required to release include those on falls, cardiac arrest, strokes, pressure ulcers, medication errors and hospital-acquired infections.

President Lawrence Massa of the Minnesota Hospital Association said most of the data already is on readily available hospital report cards.

Massa added: “We do not think we have a patient quality problem in Minnesota” and no study is needed.

Hospital leaders say they fear the study included in the bill by Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, would lead to a nurse quota requirement.

They also claim nurses pulled a fast one Monday when they gave Hayden new bill language that goes beyond last week’s compromise.

Rick Fuentes of the nurses’ group said the new Hayden bill did follow the compromise, but just was more specific.

Frederickson said that information is important to patients and is the first step the nursing organization sees to improved care.

Massa called the bill “overly burdensome.”

There already have been plenty of studies on the topic, Massa said, and they only blame 1 percent of patient problems to staffing levels.

“We’re adding a lot of work here,” Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said of the Hayden bill.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said her human services committee needed more time to discuss the issue since members had no advance notice that Hayden would change his bill Monday.

“We were led to believe there was an agreement,” she said.