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SF Chronicle op-ed: "Patient-ratio law ends 'nursing shortage'"

March 18, 2004 -- Today the San Francisco Chronicle published a strong op-ed piece by Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association (CNA), arguing that California's new nurse staffing ratio law has already improved care, despite what she describes as relentless, "deceptive" efforts by hospital industry representatives to weaken it.

DeMoro explains that California enacted the safe staffing law in 1999 to address the increasingly dangerous "nursing shortage," which she ascribes to a decade-long drive by managed care and the hospital industry to cut costs and replace nurses with "less skilled" caregivers, which in turn drove many registered nurses away from the bedside. DeMoro notes that the resulting short staffing endangered patients' lives, citing the Linda Aiken study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed that patient mortality increases by 31% when nurses' patient loads are doubled from 4 to 8 patients.

DeMoro argues that the California law, which went into effect in January 2004, has already done much to resolve the "shortage." She notes that the number of RN's in the state has increased by 10,000 per year since the law was signed, and that 70% of California hospitals surveyed by CNA report that staffing has improved since January. DeMoro pays tribute to the nurses who, as "guardians of patient safety," fought for passage of the staffing law and stayed at the bedside "through all the cutbacks and the shredding of the patient safety net," jeopardizing their health and licenses to "protect patients in unsafe conditions created by an uncaring industry."

DeMoro focuses on the efforts of this "uncaring industry" to roll the law back through lawsuits, new legislation and a "cynical" and "misleading" public relations campaign to "manipulate" the public into accepting a "substandard" level of care, which would produce "bigger profit margins and higher executive compensation." The piece might have been even more powerful if it had refuted the hospitals' actual arguments, which would presumably concern controlling spiraling costs at a time when many hospitals are failing. In any case, DeMoro asserts that the industry has underestimated the resolve of nurses and patients who support the law, and notes that nurses in the U.S. and abroad are "mobilizing to enact similar safe-staffing legislation, bringing hope back to their profession and health to their patients."

See Rose Ann DeMoro's op-ed "Regulating health care patient-ratio law ends 'nursing shortage'" in the March 18, 2004 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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