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Nurses Union Steps Up Advocacy for Two Ballot Questions

Jessica Bartlett - Boston Business Journal, 6/11/14

The Massachusetts Nurses Association is ramping up its efforts to build support for two ballot questions that would change the way hospitals operate.

In one example, the MNA polled 100 doctors who regularly care for patients in Massachusetts hospitals. Of the responses, 58 percent said they have seen executives cut valuable patient care services in order to increase a hospital's operating margin, and 70 percent said they believed greater transparency of hospital finances would help protect those programs.

“(Doctors) see hospitals cutting back on things that help (their) patients and the families (they) care for, that’s why they are responding to it,” said David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The poll was one of two that the union took to build support for two ongoing ballot initiatives. The “Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness Act” seeks to mandate quicker and more detailed financial reporting, including details of a hospital’s offshore accounts and all financial assets. The initiative would help better track hospitals' financials with an eye towards changing spending priorities. The measure also seeks to put a cap on hospital profits and CEO paychecks, sending overages into an account to be used by struggling hospitals.

A second ballot initiative, named “The Patient Safety Act,” would set standards for the ratio of nurses to patients.

Both ballot proposals are currently before the state Legislature for review. If the mandates are not fast-tracked by the legislature, the nurses union can put the motions on the November ballot with roughly 11,000 signatures for each proposal filed by early July.

The nurses can expect a vigorous fight from the Massachusetts Hospital Association if either initiative makes it to the ballot.

“We’ve supported increased transparency in our reform legislation and everything hospitals do in terms of finance and care is publicly reported or subject to reporting,” said Tim Gens, the Massachusetts Hospital Association's executive vice president. “There is virtually nothing left that is not reported.”

Gens said executive compensations are already disclosed and imposing caps on operating profit margins would only hurt the hospitals.

Hospital executives also believe mandating nursing staff ratios wouldn’t help provide patients better care, as higher staffing isn’t always necessary. The costs associated with that mandate could compromise other hospital departments and jobs.

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