Mass. Hospital Association Steps Into Nurse Staffing Dispute

Lynn Nicholas, President & CEO of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, posted a comment today in response to our story about the controversy over nursing staff levels at Tufts Medical Center.

(For background: earlier this week, CommonHealth published an analysis of nurse staffing ratios based on data from Patient Care Link, a public website maintained by the hospital association. That analysis found that Tufts Medical Center nurses appear to be spending less time with patients compared to nurses from other Boston teaching hospitals. The Tufts nurses, in the middle of tense contract negotiations with the hospital administration, say their diminished staffing levels are hurting patient care; the hospital says care remains top quality.)

We thought that the comments from Nicholas, of the MHA, were worth a separate post, so here it is:

It's All About Outcomes

We knew when we created PatientCareLink in 2005 that we'd provide the public with the most transparent view of hospital nurse staffing in Massachusetts. However, we were concerned that nurse staffing hours might be misinterpreted as the sole measure of patient care. They shouldn't be. Registered nurses are essential and valued members of the care-giving team – but it still takes a team to care for patients. And the team's performance should ultimately be judged by the care patients receive.

Tufts has it right in its response. The key word in any discussion of patient care is "outcomes," the results of the comprehensive care provided to patients.

It is correct to place extraordinary value on the efforts of RNs – but it would be wrong to undervalue every other person contributing to a patient's care. Nursing assistants, technicians, patient sitters (who monitor patients at risk of falls and help them enter and exit beds, among other duties), pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and others who are constantly attuned to the needs of patients. Comprehensive patient care should be about how the dedicated, professional team provides care to each and every patient.

I'd encourage anyone visiting PatientCareLink to examine hospital staffing – that is why we publish that information. But make sure to look beyond the nurse staffing numbers to understand the bigger picture of how patients are cared for in hospitals. Find out how every day – in fact, every fraction of an hour of every day – hospital workers operate as one unified entity to collectively drive healthcare quality and patient safety forward.

This publication, which is also available on PatientCareLink, highlights the ongoing improvement in quality and patient safety at Massachusetts hospitals.

Clearly, the issue isn't going away. Tomorrow, March 16, Tufts nurses and their union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association will hold "an informational picket and rally from 4 – 6 p.m. to call for desperately needed improvements in patient care conditions at this major Boston-based teaching hospital."

This program aired on March 15, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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