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Massachusetts second state to consider nurse staffing ratios; experts to appear at public hearing

Boston, Mass. (July 12) At a time when the nursing shortage is entering its eighth year and health care costs continue to skyrocket, preventing medical errors is at the forefront of two competing bills before the Massachusetts legislature. This week, the legislature is holding a hearing on the charged issue of whether the state should mandate minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals. Today, the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum (MHPF), and the New England Public Policy Center released a report detailing the benefits, costs and consequences of this option.

National research demonstrates that an increase in the number of nurses is associated with fewer deaths, shorter hospital stays, and lower rates of complications such as pneumonia, shock, and cardiac arrest. Despite this fact, there is no consensus among health-care experts that mandating the number of registered nurses is the best course of action. The Massachusetts legislature is only the second in the nation to seriously consider mandatory minimum nurse staffing ratios. California enacted such requirements in January 2004, but it is still too early to evaluate whether this law has resulted in improved patient safety.

The Forum, in collaboration with the New England Public Policy Center, recently gathered national health policy experts, health-care leaders and legislators to inform the Commonwealth's debate about this complex issue. Phil Johnston, chair of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, urged leaders to find common ground: "Massachusetts hospitals lead the world in research and sheer talent, but the health care community must work together now to create an effective plan to ensure patients are safe and we are preventing medical errors."

Michael Doonan, a social policy researcher at Brandeis University's Heller School and Executive Director of MHPF, will share the latest findings on nurse staffing research before the Committee on Public Health on Wednesday, Jul
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