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REGIONAL- In a stunning last day reversal of fortunes, Minnesota legislators killed a controversial proposal that would have left hospital staffing decisions to committees, shifting the bill’s …
REGIONAL- In a stunning last day reversal of fortunes, Minnesota legislators killed a controversial proposal that would have left hospital staffing decisions to committees, shifting the bill’s focus, instead, to workplace safety and solutions to the ongoing nursing shortage.
The change also removed, as moot, an exemption for the Mayo Clinic that had been added to the bill after the influential healthcare system had threatened to halt a planned multi-billion-dollar investment in the state if the measure was approved. The bill, with its controversial proposals, had breezed through a legislative conference committee as recently as last week.
Dubbed the “Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act,” the measure was strongly opposed by the state’s hospital administrators because it would have taken away their authority to determine nurse staffing levels and instead handed that responsibility over to institutional committees empowered to set specific nurse-staff ratios for individual units. If unable to reach agreement with administrators, committee decisions would have been subject to binding arbitration in the courts. The Minnesota Hospital Association claimed the bill would further hurt financially ailing hospitals, would pose additional obstacles for small rural critical access hospitals, and require hospitals to turn away an estimated 70,000 patients annually. Administrators also objected to a provision that would have allowed nurses to refuse to care for a patient if they believed adding that patient to their assigned load would jeopardize patient health and safety.
But the bill, co-authored by registered nurse Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul and Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, had strong support throughout the session from party leaders, the Minnesota Nurses Association, and other labor organizations, up until last week when the conference committee agreed to exempt all Mayo Clinic locations in southeastern Minnesota from its staffing provisions. That compromise proved to be the bill’s undoing, as over the weekend numerous legislators indicated they couldn’t support an exclusive carve-out for Mayo that wasn’t available to other hospital systems in the state.
To salvage something, the bill’s sponsors pulled the controversial staffing requirements from the bill on Monday, retitled it the Nurse and Patient Safety Act, and focused instead on nurse and patient safety and building up the pool of available registered nurses through a loan forgiveness program.
In a statement issued Monday, MNA President Mary Turner decried the demise of the original bill.
“Today, my heart breaks for the patients in Minnesota,” she said. “We came here to pass the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act,” she said. “Because of the power and influence of corporate healthcare executives, that bill has died. Today’s outcome, and the events of the last three weeks, make clear that the outsized power of corporate executives is alive and well. The strong-arm bully tactics of hospital CEOs that all Minnesotans have suffered this last week are the same tactics nurses experience every day in the workplace.”
However, Turner said the revised bill is an important step forward for nurses.
“For those nurses who choose to stay at the bedside, the language in this agreement will help them to feel safe in their jobs. It will help them to care for their children, to find relief from heavy student loans. It will meaningfully improve the lives and the work of those nurses who choose to stay in our profession. The strong protections against workplace violence are especially critical. These strongest-in-the-nation protections will be a godsend to many of our nurses on the most understaffed units.”
Hospital executives had claimed the committee provisions were unnecessary because they already consulted with nurses about staffing levels, and a statement from MHA vowed that would continue.
“We affirm our commitment to work in collaboration with our dedicated care teams, including nurses, and welcome all assistance in addressing these challenges in service of those who matter most – our patients,” the statement said. “The Minnesota Hospital Association is unwavering in its support for legislation addressing workplace violence and the workforce shortage confronting our statewide system of care. As we move forward, we remain resolute in our commitment to work closely with the Legislature and caregivers to address the ongoing challenges faced by our nonprofit hospitals and health systems as we remain focused on caring for our patients and communities. We acknowledge that there is much work to be done, and we remain devoted to ensuring that the best possible care is accessible to all Minnesotans.”
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