Letters

Dr. James J. O’Rourke: Understaffing at South Coast has prompted nurse exits

SouthCoast Today

In a recent Southcoast publication Keith Hovan (president & CEO of Southcoast Health) has made an impassioned case against Question 1 which sets safe limits on how many patients a nurse can care for.

Mr. Hovan, speaking as a nurse and CEO, states “this initiative is estimated to add $38 million annually to our already burdened budget and require the hiring of 255 additional nurses at Southcoast hospitals.”

Ironically, Mr. Hovan’s leadership has overseen a colossal operating loss of that very amount in 2017 — $38 million! While other hospitals in the state are posting profits, Southcoast’s bond rating has been downgraded from A3 to Baa1 by Moody’s Investors Service and witnessed a biblical exodus of talented, dedicated physicians and nurses.

As an anesthesiologist at Southcoast for 20 years, I had the pleasure of working with many nurses in obstetrics, ORs, recovery rooms, and med/surgical floors. Nurses often complained to me about limited staffing, mandated overtime and staying post-call after being up all night doing emergency cases. This understaffing has resulted in the loss of experienced nurses at our hospitals.

Mr. Hovan’s claims that this bill will require the hiring of 255 additional nurses is, in and of itself, an admission that the system understaffs nurses. In Massachusetts last year there were 2,000 formal complaints about staffing levels and 77 percent of nurses believe they are understaffed.

Studies have shown that tired, overworked nurses are less effective, decrease quality of care, increase medication errors, and result in longer hospitalizations.

While not perfect, this bill will set up guardrails for safe nursing ratios. It is unfortunate that collective bargaining with hospital administrators has failed and this issue has become a ballot question, one which the same administrators have spent over $17 million to defeat.

James J. O’Rourke, M.D.

Marion

Read the letter to the editor here.

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