Cape Cod Healthcare Officials Highlight Impacts of Nursing Bill as Election Approaches

Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

HYANNIS – With Election Day coming up, local healthcare officials are continuing to push residents to vote against mandated nurse staffing ratios.

A “yes” vote on Question 1, which has been one of the most contentious issues across the state during this election cycle, would set a maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, along with allowing nurses to adjust patient assignments based on specific patient needs.

Cape Cod Healthcare officials say the staffing ratios would cost the organization over $34 million per year in additional salaries for nurses.

President and CEO Michael Lauf says the mandate would result in a loss of beds throughout the organization’s hospital system.

“I think what it will do to us is make a very strong community-based health system very average, if not weak, heading into the future,” Lauf said.

He said, because the organization will not be able to cover the costs, services will need to be centralized and limited.

“What you’ll see is beds close across the Cape. You’ll see services limited across the Cape,” Lauf said. “You’ll see the huge investments we’ve made in behavioral health and opioid substance use disorders decrease.”

Lauf says programs that invest in schools and the community would need to be cutback as well.

Lauf said the mandate would also impact emergency room services on Cape Cod, especially during the summer when patient numbers skyrocket.

“It would force people to have long waits in the ER. Force EMS crews to make sure that they are holding these patients before we let them in,” Lauf said. “The result would be more, and more, and more patients going to Boston – the exact opposite of what we want and what our community wants.”

Judith Quinn, the chief nursing officer for Cape Cod Healthcare, said the nurse to patient ratio for medical surgical nurses is one per five patients is the same as the California model, which the Massachusetts ballot question was modeled after. The Massachusetts Nurses Association is calling for a 1:4 ratio in the state.

“There is no scientific or statistical information to back that point,” Quinn said.

Cape Cod Healthcare already meets the staffing levels in the bill for Critical Care, OR, PACU and Maternity units at its hospitals.

If passed, the bill would impact Cape Cod Hospital’s MedSurg, ER and Psychiatric units.

“Let’s be very clear, this is an MNA bill,” Lauf said. “It’s not a nursing bill it is an MNA bill. They don’t represent most of the nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Late last month, about ten Cape Cod Hospital nurses and MNA officials held a rally outside of Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis supporting the mandates staffing ratios.

Nurses at Cape Cod Hospital say they are overwhelmed at work because they’re forced by management to treat seven or even eight patients at once during their shifts. They add that the understaffing of bedside nurses at the hospital presents safety risks to patients, as nurses are left to decide which patient should be treated first while the others are left with no assistance.

Shannon Sherman has been a Registered Nurse at Cape Cod Hospital for 17 years. She says the control and care of patients has been completely taken out of the hands of nursing staff and “strictly given to management.”

Lauf argues that Sherman’s claims are “simply not true,” dismissing them as an idea driven by special interest groups out of Boston.

An indepedent study by the Health Policy Commission estimated the cost of implementing Question 1 on the November ballot — should voters approve it — at between $676 million and $949 million.

Groups supporting and opposing the ballot question are throwing a lot of money into the debate and have raised a combined $29 million.

The Coalition to Protect Patient Safety — the group opposing the question — reported raising about $18 million as of mid-October. Nearly all the money has come from the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association.

The Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care — which supports the question — has raised $11.3 million. Much of the funding has come from individual nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

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