Few ballot questions have vexed Massachusetts voters more in recent times than Ballot Question #1 which seeks to put strict limits on the number of patients that nurses care for in a hospital setting. How can we say that it is so controversial? A WBUR poll of 500 registered nurses reveals that 48 percent plan to vote for the ballot question that would establish maximum nurse-to-patient ratios in state law, and 45 percent say they’ll vote against the very same measure. Only seven percent are undecided. “Nurses are split on the question,” says pollster Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey for WBUR.
Those in favor of the measure believe it will enhance patient safety while those against claim that a “one size fits all” approach is too inflexible and will lead to a host of unintended consequences from greater waiting times in emergency rooms to forcing smaller, rural hospitals to close due to their inability to afford the extra nursing staff that will be required. Should the measure pass, the maximum patient to nurse ratio would be set at 4 to 1 but that ratio can vary depending on the condition of the patient or the unit that they’re in. For example, in units with post-anesthesia care or operating room patients, the measure would mandate a ratio of one patient under anesthesia per nurse or a maximum of two post anesthesia patients per nurse.
While everyone desires a safer hospital environment for patients, there is no consensus that passing Ballot Question #1 will serve that end.