Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent comments to California nurses are telling – not only about his feelings toward nurses, but also toward women. Nursing is historically, and currently, a female-dominated field, and California’s nurses have been among the first to point out Schwarzenegger’s discrimination against them as directly tied to his discrimination against women.
At a state woman’s conference in December, nurses protesting the governor’s decision to suspend, until 2008, new nurse-patient ratio laws (specifying the number of nurses who must be working in a hospital per number of patients) came bearing signs saying “hands off our ratios.” Schwarzenegger’s dismissal of the California Nurses Association’s protestors as “special interests” and that they should be ignored because he “kick[s] their butts” spelled out his feelings.
Schwarzenegger wants the ratio of nurses to patients changed from 5-1 to 6-1. This may not seem like a big deal, but studies have shown that every additional patient a nurse is assigned increases the likelihood of death by seven percent. With four additional patients, that increases by 31 percent (Journal of the American Medical Association).
Luckily for California’s nurses and patients, a superior court judge ruled that the governor had no authority to suspend the ratio law.
If you’ve ever been in a hospital, then you know that it’s the nurses who do much, of the “care” work. If you wake up in pain, if you have problems with your medications, or almost any other part of your care, likely it’s a nurse who will help you, not a doctor. Low nurse-patient ratios have been shown to reduce a spectrum of diseases, from pneumonia to urinary infections to heart attacks (New England Journal of Medicine).
So who benefits from higher nurse-patient ratios? Big business. Many hospitals across California and the country are now corporate-owned. Less nurses means less people on the payroll, meaning more profit.
That Schwarzenegger wants to increase nurse-patient ratios in California can only lead us to believe that he cares about the bottom line of those corporations (translating into higher donations for his re-election campaign) more than he cares about the health and well being of Californians. It’s time for all of us, as citizens and patients, to stand up with the nurses and say that human life is more valuable than money.