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Local nurses speak out for patient care limits

Abington Mariner: According to Donna Dudik, a Nov. 6 ballot measure that proposes a limit on the amount of patients assigned to a hospital nurse in Massachusetts is “badly needed.”

“I have been a nurse for 35 years,” said Durdik, a Weymouth resident and nurse during a rally for the initiative outside South Shore Hospital, Thursday. “I work out of Boston Medical Center. I see so many nurses who are swamped with having to take care of so many patients safely.”

The Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care is sponsoring the ballot Question 1, which calls for hospitals to assign three patients to one nurse who works in an intermediate care unit.

The ballot measure would require a hospital to have one nurse care for a single patient who is under anesthesia or being treated in the operating room.

Hospital emergency rooms would also be required to have one nurse provide care for a patient deemed to be in critical condition or receiving intensive care if the initiative passes. A patient who is determined to be in stable condition could then be cared for by two nurses under the ballot measure.

The initiative would additionally prohibit a single nurse assigned to a rehabilitation or psychiatric unit for providing care to more than five patients.

A hospital pediatric unit, along with a medical, surgical, or observation /outpatient treatment unit would be required to assign no more than four patients to a nurse.

Staffing in a hospital maternity unit would vary based on a mother’s need under the proposed measure. A mother in labor would be assigned to the care of one nurse for up to two hours after giving birth.

The maternity unit would also be required to have one nurse assigned to care for each newborn when the infant and mother are deemed stable by medical staff.

Karen Duffy, a Marshfield nurse at Brockton Hospital, said she believes the hospital industry is being driven by profit motives and not providing the best patient care.

“I have been a nurse for 34 years,” she said. “Nursing has changed so much since when I first started. The changes have been brought about by a corporate business approach. It is not about the patient anymore. For 20 years I have been lobbying with the state legislature to get a bill for safe patient limits passed and they smiled at us.”

Duffy said there is no limit on the amount of patients that can be assigned to a nurse by a hospital, unlike a child day care center.

“They have limits on the amount of children they can take in,” she said.

Duffy said the ballot measure should be approved by voters to ensure safe care for patients by nurses.

“I’m concerned about the health care of humanity,” she said.

Susan Thomas, a Hull nurse with ties to Abington, said she once took her brother to the South Shore Hospital emergency room for medical care and ended up leaving without him being treated because there did not appear to be enough staffing in the unit.

“They did not triage him and I ended up taking him to Brockton Hospital,” said Thomas, a nurse at Cambridge Hospital.

Thomas said she and her nurse friends have made a pact to be with each other at all times if one of them is hospitalized because there is no limit on the amount of patients a nurse can be assigned to care for.

“We trust the nurses, but they don’t have enough of them,” she said.

Duffy said the people she talks with about the ballot question seem to be overwhelmingly supportive of having safe patient care limits for nurses.

“It is common sense that safely limiting the number of patients a nurse cares for will result in better care,” she said “There is also decades of independent research to prove safe patient limits work. When I talk to voters, they immediately understand why nurses say yes on Question 1. Hospital executives are spending millions to confuse voters with ads, but nurses are out there spreading the truth every day.”

Sue Clancy, a nurse from Scituate, said she opposes the ballot measure because it would give the government power to simplify complex decisions down to a single number.

“When deciding on a treatment plan for our patients, nurses take into account multiple factors, it is never just a ratio,” she said, Friday. “This bill would wipe away the work we have done to empower our profession.”

South Shore Hospital nurse Tim Suydan of Braintree said daily experiences in nursing is what defines the profession.

“Walk one hour in my shoes with any nurse,” he said. “Our experience every day, every year, builds to what our practice is as nurses and you can’t mandate that, you can’t take that away from us. We are not machines.”

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