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Local Response to Nursing Debate

Registered nurses are hard workers. Their daily work involves disgusting and often hazardous substances, wounds, and diseases that you don’t even want to think about. They comfort us even when family and friends retreat. They often work overtime and skip their breaks and lunches to provide patient care. If you ever needed a nurse, you know they are truly selfless heroes in this dollar-dominated world. California’s registered nurses recently won a well-publicized victory over Gov. Schwarzenegger and the hospital owner’s lobby, the California Hospital Association. This war is about ratios – how many patients can one nurse safely manage? The hospital lobby insists that each nurse can safely care for 10 patients at a time. Anyone with a pulse will instantly recognize this is a lie, but money can make people say and do stupid things. Nurses, relentless advocates for your care, want a lower ratio. Logic insists and studies confirm that the fewer patients a nurse must juggle, the better chance you have of surviving your hospitalization. But that fact does not enter the hospital owner’s year-end bonus calculations.Before the ratio law was enacted, hospitals were supposed to staff their wards in accordance with Title 22 of the California Code of Regulations. Title 22 mandates that each hospital has a patient classification system in place to determine how many nurses are needed on each ward based on the severity of the patients being treated there. But, in their quest for more and more profits, the hospital owners corrupted this system. By 1998, the California Department of Health Services found that 87 percent of California hospitals were out of compliance. The resultant severe statewide understaffing of nurses and the danger that posed to their patients motivated the California Nurses Association to push for the ratio law. This law is so simple that no high-priced corporate lawyer could ever successfully corrupt it. Five patients per nurse means five patients, period. The ratio law is incorruptible, but not bulletproof. That’s why the hospital owner’s lobby and their hired-gun governor are trying so hard to kill it. If the past is any indication of the future, you will soon be bombarded by propaganda from this powerful lobby and their shills trying to convince you that safe staffing will not work. You will see letters to the editor and TV ads written by highly-paid, uncaring professionals about threatened hospital closings designed to inject cold fear deep into your heart. They will cry the loudest about the nursing shortage but will never admit that they caused it or that the ratio law is rapidly curing it. And Schwarzenegger, not yet used to being typecast as the “loser,” will surely put the full force of state agencies to task trying to save face. The bottom line is this: Trust and support your nurses. They care a heck of a lot more about you than the greedy hospital owners or this self-proclaimed “populist” governor.