Dem proposes federal regulation of nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals
By Pete Kasperowicz - 04/17/13 11:45 AM ET
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would require hospitals to maintain a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio at all times, and allow the government to audit and penalize hospitals that fail to comply with this rule.
Boxer said her bill, S. 739, is meant to help address the nation's shortage of nurses, and would also ensure patients get the care they need while in the hospital.
"I am proud to introduce legislation that will help save the lives of countless patients by improving the quality of care in our nation’s hospitals," Boxer said Tuesday. "We must support the nurses who work tirelessly every day to provide the best possible care to their patients."
Her bill would apply to hospitals across the country that participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and is similar to bills that failed to advance in the last few Congresses.
Boxer's bill last year required a nurse each for every one patient in trauma or operating room units. It also required one nurse for every two patients in critical care, every three patients in emergency rooms, every four patients in medical-surgical units, and every five patients in rehabilitation units.
It also required a nurse for every six patients in a well-baby nursery unit.
Last year's version called on the government to periodically audit hospitals to ensure the requirements are met, and allows the government to impose civil penalties against hospitals that are out of compliance. The penalty can be as high as $25,000 per hospital for each knowing violation of the law — individuals can also be fined up to $20,000 per violation.
The bill specifically says hospitals cannot meet the new targets by averaging the number of patients in these facilities. It prevents hospitals from imposing mandatory overtime requirements to meet these ratios, and includes new whistleblower protections for nurses who might report violations of the new minimum nursing standards.
The bill does, however, allow for exemptions to these rules during emergencies.
Boxer's proposal requires hospitals to post these requirements, and keep records showing actual nurse-to-patient ratios achieved for at least the prior two years.