CNA Sues Schwarzenegger, DHS for Delaying Nurse Staffing Ratios
Members of the California Nurses Association on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court alleging that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the Department of Health Services illegally delayed until 2008 the implementation of a law that would decrease from six to five the number of patients for which a nurse is responsible, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. The law was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 (AP/Los Angeles Times, 12/22).
In the lawsuit, CNA "reiterates its claim" that Schwarzenegger's order to delay implementing the ratio endangers patient care, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hubbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22).
The lawsuit states, "The immediate victims [of the delay] will be the patients who suffer serious injury and death as minimum standards of safe care and patient protections are stripped away by the very agency charged under law with responsibility for ensuring the protection of hospital patient health and safety" (Skidmore, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/22).
In the suit, CNA also said that the current nursing environment does not require an emergency regulation by Schwarzenegger.
CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro said, "There was no emergency" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22). She added that the ratios originally were intended to prevent hospitals from making staff decisions for financial reasons, which Schwarzenegger cited as a justification for the delay. DeMoro said that the delay sets a "horrendous precedent." She added that Schwarzenegger has performed an "end run around the Legislature," and, if he were "[l]eft unchallenged, he could do that on numerous regulations" (AP/Los Angeles Times, 12/22).
DeMoro called Schwarzenegger's delay "a special interest payoff" that is present only when "corporations really do control a government." She added, "The governor gets by with a lot because he's from Hollywood, and ultimately, attacking the nurses was a big wake-up call to California" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22).
Schwarzenegger deferred comment to the Health and Human Services Agency, which referred calls to DHS.
DHS spokesperson Ken August said, "Nowhere in the law does it say specifically what those ratios should be. We set in place ratios that are safe currently," adding that DHS will maintain ratios while it studies the cost and need for more nurses (AP/Los Angeles Times, 12/22).
August said DHS "is exercising its regulatory authority that was given to it by the Legislature to establish ratios that are appropriate to patient safety." He added that the department would "vigorously defend" Schwarzenegger's actions.
California Healthcare Association spokesperson Jan Emerson called the allegation that patients are endangered by Schwarzenegger's delay "nonsensical." Emerson added, "It's the same exact ratio that's been in effect since Jan. 1. We're simply going to continue the one-to-six" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22).