The California Assembly late last week passed a bill that would mandate specific nurse staffing ratios in the state's more than 400 hospitals. The bill, sponsored by the California Nurses Association, also would limit hospitals' use of unlicensed personnel as bedside caregivers.
If enacted, it's believed the measure would be the first such state law in the country. It passed the Democratically controlled Assembly by a 42-28 vote after testimony from lawmakers about how their own relatives have received inadequate care in the state's hospitals.
The bill now moves to the Senate, also controlled by Democrats. On Senate approval, it would go to Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who was elected with strong CNA support.
The state's hospital industry has opposed the nurse-staffing bill. Dorel Harms of the California Health Care Association said the proposed ratios are too tight, especially on night shifts. California doesn't have enough nurses to fill the jobs it already has, Harms said.
CNA spokesman Charles Idelson scoffed at that argument, saying the shortage of nurses was created by the hospitals themselves, who laid off too many nurses in the name of economy and burdened the rest with impossible hours and unsafe working conditions.
The CNA is pleased that the bill passed, but it expects a major effort in the Senate to gut it.
"We do not want to see this bill weakened," Idelson said. "We will mount a campaign to see this bill adopted with ratios to address what we view to be an extremely serious crisis in nurse staffing in Northern California."
The bill would mandate one nurse for every two patients in critical care units, burn units, and labor and delivery departments.
Although the CNA supported Davis in his campaign last year, the union is not taking anything for granted, Idelson said. "He has been very cautious on legislative issues. We believe it will take an active campaign by nurses and the public for this bill to pass the Senate and be signed by the governor."
-With the Associated Press