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Nurse ratio study worries hospitals

Ryan Carter

Hospital labor and consumer advocates are touting a new report that

says bolstered nursing-to-patient ratios will prevent deaths and

lessen the risk of medical errors, particularly in the treatment of a


local aging population. But locally, hospital administrators are


The report, sponsored by Hospital Watch, an alliance that includes

senior groups, unions and nurses, said patients older than 65 would


benefit from a new law requiring minimum nurse-to-staff ratios at

hospitals in the state by Jan. 1.

Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Glendale Memorial Hospital,

Glendale Adventist Medical Center and Verdugo Hills Hospital treat a

high volume of the county’s seniors, according to 2002

patient-discharge data from the California Office of Statewide Health

Planning and Development.

“They are trying to find every avenue to support their position,”


said Karen Kneuven, vice president of care services at Verdugo Hills

Hospital. “I think it’s union driven.”

Kneuven and other local hospital representatives said that they

have worked since 1999 to hire new nurses to meet the ratios. But

they are concerned about being able to adhere to the law 100% of the

time. And hospital officials said they are concerned about a nursing


“Meeting the new state mandates will be challenging, especially if


there is a large influx of patients,” said Sharon Gerson, director of

patient care services at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center. “For

example, a severe flu season could mean a large number of patients

will seek care at our emergency department all at once.”

But representatives who helped put out the report said the ratios

are necessary because they will create better working conditions and

save lives.

“To know that in Los Angeles County more than 3,000 lives can be

saved is very significant for the senior population,” said Susan

Fogel, an attorney who works with Service Employees International

Union and Hospital Watch.

The report cites recent published research that concludes a

patient’s risk of dying increases when the nurse-to-patient ratio

goes up, Fogel said.

The new ratios will bolster care mainly at cardiac and

post-operative care units, which, according to Hospital Watch,

provide the most care to seniors.

Based on other reports linking low numbers of hospital staffing to

patient deaths, the report concludes that the staffing law could save

the lives of 3,000 patients 65 and older in the first 18 months of

the law’s life.

For instance, medical telemetry units will be required to carry

one nurse for every five patients by January and one nurse to every

four patients by 2008. The ratios apply to everything from critical

care and perinatal services to psychiatric units. Emergency rooms

will be required to have one nurse for every four patients.