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At nurses rally, Galvin says health care ‘under attack’

State House News Service: Supporters of a ballot question calling for nurse staffing mandates listed Secretary of State William Galvin on their campaign agenda for an event outside the State House Wednesday and the state’s top election official won applause as he discussed the importance of citizens deciding health care issues. His office then accepted scores of certified signatures from activists who are backing the proposal.

“It’s always an achievement when a group puts together a ballot initiative that gives citizens the final say. And that’s, particularly in the area of health care, extremely important,” said Galvin, who next year is seeking a seventh four-year term in office.

A Galvin spokeswoman later declined to say whether the Brighton Democrat was endorsing the proposal, saying he didn’t have anything to add to his comments.

According to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the state needs to set in law a maximum limit on the number of patients that can be assigned to each registered nurse at one time “to avoid mistakes, serious complications and preventable readmissions.” Staffing rules are needed in emergency departments, medical-surgical floors, maternity units and psychiatric units, the nurses say, and the petition assigns limits based on hospital units and levels of care.

At the rally, Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care members pulled up to the Beacon Street curb in a bus accompanied by an ambulance filled with more than 100,000 certified signatures in support of their ballot initiative “relative to patient safety and hospital transparency.” They later delivered them to the state elections division, which Galvin oversees, so they can be counted to ensure they meet the minimum requirement of 64,750 certified signatures.

Hospitals and nurses have battled over staffing mandates for years, with hospitals prevailing to date by arguing on-site managers are best suited to decide how to deploy personnel. Nurses, fed up with inaction on their proposal in the Legislature, are now ready to go directly to voters.

“We’ve always been proud of you, we’ve been proud of our health care professionals,” Galvin said at the rally. “We want to make sure that we continue to provide the best health care to all of our citizens, and as Massachusetts always should, lead the way.”

Galvin continued, “We know that health care is under attack in this country because of the Trump administration. We know that the health care of Massachusetts residents is at risk because of cutbacks that are occurring in Washington. And we also know that even here in Massachusetts various legislative efforts threaten the security of our health care.”

Massachusetts Nurses Association vice president Karen Coughlin, who introduced Galvin at Wednesday’s event, said the proposal will improve patient safety while providing staffing flexibility through an acuity system that links nursing assignments to how sick patients are.

“This makes smart fiscal sense,” Coughlin said at the rally. “Readmissions and longer hospital stays cost more money. Massachusetts ranks sixth worst in the nation for preventable readmissions and 80 percent of our hospitals have been penalized by Medicare for those readmissions.”

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