Opinion Pieces Offer Contrasting Views on Value of New Minimum Nurse Staffing Ratios
Although instituting minimum nursing ratios is a "good first step" toward strengthening California's health care system, the plan "does not address the underlying structural defects" that contribute to the state's nursing shortage and could cause more problems in the future, Pam Slater, a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, writes in a San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece. According to Slater, "We can all agree" that "more-qualified, better-paid" nurses are needed. However, mandated ratios do not address the fact that benefits and salary increases have been "restrict[ed]" over the last 10 years because of "fall[ing]" hospital margins and decreased funding from "both private and public" third-party payers. Because of this, "young people considering career options" know that nursing "will not provide a financial windfall," leading them to "consider other careers offering opportunities for a better quality of life," she states. Slater says that if "broad solutions" to the problems contributing to the state's health care worker shortage are not found, "health care quality will erode and access will be impacted as care is delayed and services are discontinued." According to Slater, nursing ratios, "despite their obvious advantages," may exacerbate the shortage in the long run by forcing hospitals to decrease the "availability of already scarce inpatient beds and access in an overburdened system." She concludes: "Particularly during this difficult time, we must strengthen our health care system, not reduce it. Nursing ratios are a good first step. But this is [only] the tip of the iceberg" (Slater, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/31).
In a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Rose DeMoro, the executive director of the California Nurses Association, writes that the new ratios are "welcome news" and will have an "essentially dramatic impact at a time when emergency rooms are closing and patients are enduring long waits for access to medical services while unstaffed beds sit empty." DeMoro writes that the ratios are an "essential first step in the effort" to recruit and retain more nurses, as "all other approaches" to end the current "exodus of nurses from hospitals" can succeed "only after safe ratios are imposed." She concludes that hospitals, "which bitterly opposed the safe staffing regulations ... should embrace them immediately to restore safe patient care conditions" (DeMoro, Los Angeles Times, 1/31).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.