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California Hospitals, with Help From UHW-SEIU Local, Launch New Attack on Life-Saving Ratio Law

Press Release, 6/15/12

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California AFL-CIO Joins Nurses in Opposing New Threat

The California Hospital Association, with the dogged assistance of United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), is waging a new campaign to overturn California’s historic law mandating minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, a landmark state law that has been proven to save thousands of patient lives.

UHW President Dave Regan, who recently signed a partnership deal with CHA, the lobbying arm of the state’s wealthy hospital industry, launched a full court press Thursday, marching some of his local’s members through the halls of the Capitol to seek legislative backing for language in the state budget to suspend the ratios during meals and breaks, a dream CHA has long pushed as a key first step to dismantling the law.

Regan then capped the day by demanding the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, hold an emergency meeting to support the erosion of the ratio law. Instead, the Federation, the umbrella arm of California unions, voted nearly unanimously for a motion by the California Nurses Association Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro to oppose the proposal by hospital industry and SEIU-UHW. Only SEIU State Council president Bill Lloyd, who also represents SEIU RNs in California, voted to support Regan’s proposal.

In pleading with the other unions, Regan cited as his pretext the state’s budget crisis and asked for help for California hospitals – even though California hospitals are making record profits -- $4,463,827,667 in profits in 2010 alone.

“It would be hard to imagine a more immoral and corrupt scenario than for a labor leader to be lobbying other unions to endanger patients on behalf of corporate hospital executives whose only concern is increasing profits,” said DeMoro today.

Both the Labor Federation and CNA today sent letters to state lawmakers opposing any attempt to suspend any part of the law.

CNA’s letter noted that the CHA/Regan proposal would “severely reduce RNs’ ability to provide protective surveillance of patients in the acute care setting increasing the likelihood that there will be increased ‘failure to rescue’ patients, a significant contribution to inpatient deaths.”

The letter also cited a landmark 2010 study on the California ratio law led by University of Pennsylvania researcher which compared California to similar hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It found that New Jersey hospitals would have 14% fewer patient deaths and Pennsylvania 11% fewer deaths if they matched California’s 1:5 ratios in surgical units.

CHA has tried for years to overturn the ratio law. CHA’s efforts included prodding former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unsuccessful attempt in 2004 to reverse portions of the law, which failed after more than 100 protests by CNA members against Schwarzenegger and a court ruling he’d acted illegally.

Significantly, CHA filed a lawsuit just before the ratios was implemented in 2004, specifically targeting the requirement that hospitals be in compliance at all times, including during breaks.

Rejecting CHA’s suit, California Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian ruled that maintaining the minimum ratios at all times, including meal and rest breaks was the only reasonable interpretation of the nurse-to-patient  regulation.  Judge Ohanesian stated that   “[a]ny other interpretation would make the nurse-to-patient ratios meaningless.”

“California RNs, with the support of patients, have fought long and hard to implement and defend this vital law against repeated attacks by hospitals all too ready to abandon patient safety for their bottom line,” said DeMoro. “This latest, unprincipled attack, will also fail.”

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Please visit our page on Safe RN-to-Patient Ratios page.

Read our Urgent Letter to California State Legislature.

Read California Labor Federation's Lettter to the Governor.

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