Nurse staffing mandate rejected

  • Paul Mark stumps for himself and Donna Stern stumps for Question One at Greenfield High School in Greenfield on Tuesday. November 6, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • Voting in the mid term elections at Greenfield High School on Tuesday. November 6, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • Ruth Gemperlein of Greenfield stumps for Question One at Greenfield High School in Greenfield on Tuesday. November 6, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • Paul Mark is all smiles running unopposed at Greenfield High School in Greenfield on Tuesday. November 6, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • Staff/Joshua Solomon

Combined Sources
Published: 11/7/2018 6:27:06 AM

After an expensive campaign that sharply divided health care professionals, Massachusetts voters Tuesday rejected strict limits on the number of patients a single nurse can care for at one time.

Ballot Question 1, which was defeated in Franklin County and the state overall, would have established nurse-to-patient ratios in various hospital units and set penalties for hospitals that failed to comply. With half of Franklin County’s 26 towns reporting, including Greenfield, the measure was defeated by more than 58 percent of voters

The Massachusetts Nurses Association supported the question, while hospitals and doctors’ groups and a national nurses professional association opposed it. The two sides combined had spent more than $30 million to make their case to voters.

Supporters said the nurse staffing requirements would make patients safer, but opponents said it would create an overly rigid system that could result in hospitals being forced to turn away some patients.

Donna Stern, senior co-chair of the Baystate Franklin nurses’ 225-member bargaining unit, said, “We are all disappointed by tonight’s results and the impact this will have for the patients we care for every day. We know that right now … there are nurses caring for too many patients and those patients are unnecessarily being put in harm’s way. The problem continues to grow every year. The status quo is not the solution here, and corporate money and lies won out in the end. What we’re going to do tomorrow is what we do best, which is to go back and take care of our patients.”

Baystate Health President and CEO Mark Keroack, said in a statement, “Massachusetts hospitals stood together against this legislation because of the significant negative impacts it could have had on patients and their ability to access health care throughout the state. At Baystate Health we value our nurses and the role they play on teams whose care has been recognized nationally for its safety and quality. We recognize the ongoing challenges of the national nursing shortage and will continue our efforts to advance our innovative strategies to educate, recruit, and retain our talented nursing workforce.”

Donna Kelly-Williams, Massachusetts Nurses Association president, said “This issue is now in the public, finally outside the walls of the hospitals. Nurses – in spite of aggressive intimidation by their employers – have engaged the public outside their workplace like never before. Along the way, hospitals have admitted there is a problem. They just don’t want to be held accountable with limits. We’ll wait, along with those patients in harm’s way, to see what their proposed solution is. The standard of nursing care in our acute care hospitals should not be defined by your ZIP code or by your socioeconomic status. All patients deserve a safe standard of nursing care, and this advocacy – this fight – won’t be over until we achieve the equity that all patients deserve.”

The question, the most controversial issue on the election ballot in Franklin County, was one of three statewide measures, along with a referendum in the First Franklin and Second Berkshire House districts.

“What we won tonight was the ability to continue providing the best possible care for patients throughout Massachusetts,” said Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association President and CEO Steve Walsh in a statement Tuesday night. “Our health care workforce is amazing. Our nurses and doctors, case workers, specialists, EMTs, technicians and leadership all come to work every day determined to provide the best possible care. For the first time ever, every major newspaper and every major patient-focused health care group in Massachusetts came to the same conclusion in this campaign. That’s why the voters empowered us to continue finding solutions together, as health care professionals.”

Walsh added, Question 1 forced some difficult and necessary discussions about the future of health care and the future of our workforce going forward. … These are conversations we owe to the voters. Most importantly, these are conversations we owe to our patients.”

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission released an October report estimating the overall impact of Question 1 at $676 to $949 million, annually, of which 37 to 40 percent would come from additional nurses mandated in acute care hospitals.

Other questions

Voters approved a ballot question stemming from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on corporate political spending.

The measure calls for creation of a 15-member commission that would be charged with advancing a constitutional amendment that would reverse the 2010 Citizens United decision. The ruling prohibits the government from limiting political spending by corporations, unions and other groups.

Critics say the ruling has paved the way for corporations and wealthy special interests to spend freely and exert undue influence on political campaigns.

The unpaid commission would have until Dec. 31, 2019, to make recommendations.

Opponents of the question said amending the constitution would be “dangerous and misguided.”

Question 2, which is largely advisory in nature, was on a path to victory Tuesday night with 71 percent in favor and 29 percent against. In Franklin County, it appeared at press time to be winning by a 4-to-1 margin.

It will require state government officials to create a 15-member, unpaid commission to recommend potential amendments to the U.S. Constitution “to establish that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.”

The law requires the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, House speaker, and Senate president to each appoint three members to the commission. The commission would be subject to the state’s open meeting and public records laws, and its first report is due Dec. 31, 2019.

Question 3, which called for retaining protections on the basis of gender identity in the state’s public accommodation law against discrimination in public accommodations, including bathrooms and locker rooms, was approved statewide, with wide support in Franklin County.

The vote rejected an effort by opponents to repeal the 2-year-old law. It was the first statewide referendum in the U.S. on transgender rights.

Supporters of the law feared a vote to repeal would prompt a wave of similar efforts to roll back protections in other states. Massachusetts was the first to legalize gay marriage and is viewed as one of the most LGBT-friendly states.

Critics say the 2016 law allows sexual predators to invade private spaces for women by claiming female gender identity. No such incidents have been reported in Massachusetts since the measure took effect.

In a fourth Question that appeared in many county towns, voters also appeared to approve a non-binding referendum supporting a single-payer health care system in Massachusetts.

The question appearing on the ballot in all Franklin County towns except Gill, Erving, Warwick, Wendell, New Salem and Orange, instructs representatives in the 1st Franklin and 2nd Berkshire districts to vote to create a single-payer health-care system in the state. At press time, it appeared to be passing in Franklin county towns by a 3-to-1 margin.

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