California Healthcare Association Release: California Hospitals Applaud Decision To Modify Nurse-To-Patient Ratio Regulations

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Nov. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- The California Healthcare Association (CHA) today praised the decision by the state Department of Health Services (DHS) to modify California's first-in-the-nation nurse-to-patient staffing ratio regulations.

"The changes announced yesterday by DHS are essential to preserving patients' access to hospital services," said CHA president and CEO C. Duane Dauner. "Cutbacks in hospital services are becoming all too common as hospitals strive to comply with these regulations. Since the beginning of this year, 11 hospitals have identified the rigid nature of these regulations as being contributing factors to closures or downsizings of hospital services. As a result, access to patient care is being jeopardized for millions of Californians across the state."

DHS yesterday announced proposed emergency regulations that will modify the nurse ratio regulations in an effort to protect California's fragile health care system. The changes, which must be approved by the state Office of Administrative Law (OAL) within 10 days, will provide hospitals with greater flexibility in ensuring that patients receive care in a timely manner, Dauner stated.

One of the most important changes announced by DHS is a proposal to maintain the current 1:6 nurse-to-patient ratio staffing level in hospital medical-surgical units. These units typically comprise the largest number of beds in acute-care hospitals. Prior to yesterday's announcement, the ratio regulations would have dropped to 1:5 on January 1, 2005. Given California's dire nurse shortage, that requirement would have been impossible for most hospitals to meet. According to the state Economic Development Department, California will be short 30,000 nurses by 2006.

Other changes proposed by DHS include a clarification of a requirement that hospitals comply with the ratio regulations "at all times." Currently, whenever a nurse temporarily steps away for a break or to use the restroom, his/her patients must be reassigned to another nurse. Under the proposed change, as long as the assigned nurse remains on the patient-care unit, patients will not have to be reassigned.

According to Dauner, this "is a common-sense solution that will go far in helping hospitals to comply with the ratio regulations."

DHS also has proposed giving hospital emergency departments (ED) more flexibility in complying with the ratio regulations when they experience an unforeseen influx of emergency patients. Currently, hospital EDs are required to have a 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratio. This requirement has resulted in nearly 40 percent of hospitals having to divert ambulances because they have been unable to comply with the ratios.

Additionally, DHS announced yesterday that it is going to undertake a comprehensive two-year study on the impact of the nurse ratio regulations. The study is slated to begin next year.

CHA Board of Trustees Chair J. Kendall Anderson, president and CEO of John Muir/Mt. Diablo Health System in Walnut Creek, commended the DHS decision, stating, "This action shows far-sighted leadership by the Administration."

"We look forward to working with the Administration and other interested parties during the next two years so that the ultimate regulations will protect patients, nurses and the public while keeping hospital services open to patients," Anderson said.

California Healthcare Association

CONTACT: Jan Emerson of California Healthcare Association,+1-916-552-7516 or +1-916-804-0663 - Cell

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