Created: 03/21/2013 11:52 AM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson
Minnesota hospitals and nurses on Thursday embraced a plan to track and study how patient care units are staffed, a compromise that stops short of unionized nurses' goal of mandatory staffing levels.
The pact cleared a Senate committee late Wednesday. The companion bill won approval Thursday in a House health committee, although slight differences in the two bills remain that will need to be worked out before final action.
The sides have been at odds for years over whether patients are at risk and whether lawmakers need to step in. The Minnesota Nurses Association has relied on anecdotal reports from its members to argue that staffing is thin, which hospital executives dispute. For their part, the hospitals have fought staffing ratios at the bargaining table and at the Capitol, arguing that they would be cumbersome and could threaten the existence of small facilities.
The revised bill requires hospitals, in consultation with nurses and other medical professionals, to develop core staffing plans that set daily benchmarks for each care unit. Hospitals must report quarterly on their direct care hours. The state health commissioner must conduct a study by 2015. The formal direction to the health department on what shape the research should take is the main difference between the House and Senate versions.
"This is what we can live with," Wendy Burt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hospitals Association, said of the bill that is advancing in the Senate.
Jan Rabbers, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Nurses Association, said it will bring "a little bit more transparency and more accountability" to the often opaque world of medicine. While it falls short of the nurses' original legislative goal, Rabbers said the data will prove valuable.
"It's not everything that we believe is necessary for good public policy, but it gets us to a foundation of evidence to build for better public policy in the years to come," Rabbers said.
The deal started to come together last week when top House Democrats stepped in to find a solution to the dispute. It was unraveling by Monday as both sides pressed for accommodations, but further discussions produced a proposal each could get behind.
Democratic Rep. Joe Atkins assured the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee that he wouldn't let his proposal morph back into one that has specific staffing ratios.
"I have zero intention of doing that," Atkins said.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said he's not willing to support the bill because he still considers it too heavy handed. Gruenhagen said the threat of malpractice lawsuits from substandard care is incentive enough for hospitals to maintain adequate staffing.
"It takes us in the direction where you are going to be infringing on the managerial rights of hospitals," he said.
The plan still needs ratification by the full Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to take effect.
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