NEW BEDFORD — Top Southcoast Health executives, ranking healthcare officials and politicians of the region and city held a press conference on Thursday morning at St. Luke’s Hospital to voice their objections to the Safe Patient Limits ballot initiative, Question 1 on this year’s ballot.

If voted into law, the initiative would place legal limits on the number of patients a single nurse can be assigned at once, resulting in varying nurse to patient ratios in different hospital departments. It would impose a $25,000 fine on hospitals in violation of those ratios.

President and CEO of Southcoast Health Keith Hovan opened up the press conference, explaining that it was organized to “highlight the fact that the issue of government-mandated nurse staffing ratios, which on the ballot for November 6, is not just a healthcare issue, it’s a community issue.”

“Question 1 will impact our local economy, our local workforce, our taxes, our jobs, and public health in ways that we can currently only imagine. That’s why we’ve invited some of our elected officials, business and thought leaders, and other healthcare providers to speak on this important subject,” continued Hovan. “If question 1 passes it will not only hurt Southcoast, but it will hurt our ability to continue to provide the same level of services and healthcare in the region that we serve.”

Rick Kidder, the President and CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, echoed the concerns of the business community regarding Question 1, and called out supporters of the bill backed by special interest groups for “bypassing” the legislative process.

“We’ve seen over the past few years and alarming proliferation of ballot initiatives put forth by special interest groups that have profound effects on our citizens and our businesses. The threshold for getting on the ballot is low. The issues are fringe issues. Bypassing our elected officials and going straight to the people often creates intended or unintended issues, when a full vetting by our legislature and governor would’ve revealed the remarkable and expensive flaws in attempting to legislate through political campaigns, not the legislative process,” Kidder said.

“Question 1 regarding the nurse staffing ratios is particularly disturbing to the business community. On the surface, the change in staffing ratios sounds like a good thing. Fewer patients per nurse sounds good, but the provisions of this initiative could in fact lead to catastrophic effects for our hospitals and ultimately for our patients.”

Hovan laid out an analysis of the fiscal effects the ballot would impose on the hospital, as well as other healthcare providers across the state, if voted into law on November 6.

“Question one will cost the south coast alone an additional $38 million per year to hire an additional 255 nurses. There will be increased costs associated with the nursing shortage that this will create as demand for traditional nurses will top over 3,000 in the Commonwealth,” said Hovan.

“Costs will only increase and recruitment will become more difficult, potentially having to look offshore in other countries to bring nurses to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Layoffs and cutbacks will occur most certainly at South Coast and at community hospitals, which will be most adversely effected throughout Massachusetts.”

Mayor Jon Mitchell also voiced his opposition to the Safe Patient Limits bill. Mitchell began by asserting that his opposition is one based on fiscal concerns rather than a political alliance.

“I stand up here as a democratic mayor, one who cares deeply about workers’ rights in every workplace,” said Mitchell. “The reality is, as all the speakers have gotten into, the requirements will distort, especially care in emergency rooms that I think people can relate to. For instance, there are times over the course of any given week or season that there is not a lot of activity in the emergency room. The imposed staffing levels will add costs that are not offset by additional revenue. It just stands to reason; you can’t just have people standing around.”

Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.
Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.

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