Lack of Data Slows Hospital Nursing Ratio Law Implementation
As the nursing shortage in California becomes "ever more severe," the debate over implementing the state's novel hospital nurse-to-patient ratio law continues, as lawmakers and health officials have "no model to follow" and lack clinical data to guide their decision, the Los Angeles Times reports. A law signed in 1999 requires the California Department of Health Services to establish nurse-to-patient ratios, but state officials have "pushed back" the implementation date from January 2001 to January 2002 because of the "difficulty of the task." Researchers at the University of California have been commissioned to create "benchmark ratios" based on samples from hospitals across the state, and DHS is expected to release preliminary findings this summer. The California Healthcare Association, which represents the hospital industry, has proposed one nurse for every 10 patients in general medical and surgery units, and one nurse for every 12 patients in behavioral health units. The California Nurses Association would set the ratios at one to three and one to four, respectively. The nurses association says it developed its recommendations based on "millions of patient records" that hospitals give to HCFA. In addition, the nurses association says staffing ratios will help end the nursing shortage by improving working conditions and "encouraging nurses to return" to the profession. Meanwhile, the hospital association continues to conduct a study assessing whether staffing and skill level impact patient care. CHA spokesperson Jan Emerson said, "It is why this whole discussion is so difficult. There is nothing to turn to -- to hang your decisions on. To just legislate a number ... without any scientific evidence just seems inappropriate to us" (Rhone, Los Angeles Times, 4/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.