Massachusetts voters reject ballot measure that would set nurse-patient ratios

Patient and nurse in hospital
Massachusetts voters have weighed in on setting limits for the number of patients assigned to nurses. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

Massachusetts residents have voted against a ballot initiative that would set limits on the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse, leaving California as the only state with such a measure in place.

About 70% of people voted against the proposal, The Boston Globe reported.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, the nursing union that proposed the measure, conceded the loss, saying they would continue to fight for improvements that benefit nurses and patient safety.

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"Tomorrow is a new day, and we'll awaken, ready to continue the fight for our patients," MNA president Donna Kelly-Williams said.

The measure has faced strenuous opposition from many of the state’s most notable medical groups, including the American Nurses Association Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

In promoting the policy, the MNA argued that having the mandated limits will improve patient safety and prevent burnout among nurses.

“It’s crazy to think that there are no limits to the number of patients that managers can assign to a nurse at one time, and the negative consequences are so clear,” said Kate Norton, spokeswoman for The Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care.

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In July, the group reported that 90% of nurses planned to vote in favor of the measure.

However, the ANA has instead suggested that a more flexible approach is necessary.

“This is the wrong path for Massachusetts, for patients and for nurses,” Diane Hanley, president of the ANA Massachusetts board of directors, said in a statement. "This proposal undermines the flexibility and decision-making authority of nurses and puts rigid mandates above patient safety, clinical nurse output, nurse manager's direction and every other consideration in a hospital."

The hospital association and medical society also both warned that the initiative could force hospitals to make cuts elsewhere to cover the potentially higher labor costs. The MMS suggested that, instead, hospitals should conduct reviews to determine if some of a nurse’s workload could be shifted to other clinicians, such as hospitalists or physician assistants.

The hospital association thanked voters for rejecting the plan in a victory speech Tuesday night, WBUR reported.

"Thank you to the voters of Massachusetts for a vote to protect the best healthcare system in the nation," President Steve Walsh said.