A California judge upheld the state's landmark nurse-staffing law, which requires hospitals to maintain specific nurse-to-patient ratios at all times. The California Healthcare Association, which represents 450 of the state's hospitals, challenged the "at all times" requirement in a lawsuit filed against the state Department of Health Services in December. The suit contended that the language would require ratios to be met even when a nurse takes a brief lunch, bathroom or coffee break and, if taken literally, would "result in virtually all nursing units in the state failing to comply." Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian ruled that the regulations clearly state that a nurse who is away from his or her assigned floor would not be counted for purposes of compliance. "The hospital must reassign the nurse's patients to another nurse and the reassigned patients must not cause the relieving nurse's patients to exceed the applicable ratios set forth in the regulation," Ohanesian wrote in her 12-page decision.
The California Nurses Association called the ruling "a huge victory" that would "boost the efforts of RNs in several dozen other states who are pursuing similar ratio laws." A hospital association representative declined to comment, saying officials were still reviewing the decision. California is the first and so far only state to pass such a specific nurse-staffing law. Under regulations that took effect Jan. 1, each nurse is limited to six patients in general medical-surgical units, four patients in emergency departments, two in intensive-care and labor units, and one in operating rooms. -- by Laura B. Benko