Schwarzenegger Issues New Emergency Order To Delay Nurse Staffing Rule Change
California Nurses Association members on Tuesday said the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Thursday issued a new emergency order to delay the implementation of nurse staffing rules that is similar to one Superior Court Judge Judy Holzer Hersher declared illegal last week, the Los Angeles Daily News reports (Hopkins, Los Angeles Daily News, 3/9).
Holzer Hersher on March 4 ruled in favor of CNA that the Department of Health Services illegally delayed changes to state nurse staffing rules when it issued an emergency declaration in November 2004 to block a lower staffing ratio from taking effect. CNA filed the lawsuit suit in December 2004.
The emergency order aimed to delay until January 2008 the implementation of a law originally scheduled take effect this month that requires nurses to be responsible for the care of no more than five patients at one time. Under the order, nurses were required to care for no more than six patients at a time.
DHS officials have said the delay was necessary to avoid fiscal emergencies at hospitals.
Holzer Hersher stated that there was no evidence to support the administration's use of emergency rule-making. However, the ruling did not block the administration's request to order a permanent regulation change.
Holzer Hersher denied the administration's request for a stay on the order, stating that the lower ratio should take effect immediately, regardless of an appeal.
Following the ruling, Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe said the administration planned to appeal the decision and ask for a delay in implementing Holzer Hersher's ruling (California Healthline, 3/7).
CNA executive director Rose Ann DeMoro said, "When you have a governor who essentially says, 'We reject what the courts say,' what kind of message is that?"
HHSA officials said that the new emergency order is intended to maintain current nurse staffing rules while Holzer Hersher's ruling is being appealed, the Daily News reports.
HHSA spokesperson Nicole Kasabian Evans said that CNA is "completely portraying this wrong. We're not backing down. We're very confident with issuing the emergency ruling and the actions we've taken."
University of San Diego Law School professor Robert Fellmeth said that Holzer Hersher's ruling could expose hospitals to medical malpractice claims if they do not implement the stricter nurse ratio while an appeal request is being processed (Los Angeles Daily News, 3/9).