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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

85 percent of hospital units met their nurse staffing goals

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Last year, the Massachusetts Hospital Association began posting on its website, staffing plans for individual units in hospitals. Starting tomorrow at noon, the organization will post whether hospitals achieved those goals during 2006.

Overall, 85 percent of individual units within hospitals statewide met their staffing plans last year, according to the hospital group.

The website includes brief explanations for units that didn't meet anticipated staffing levels. For example, Cape Cod Hospital planned to have nurses spend an average 7.44 hours a day with patients on one of its units for medical and surgical patients. But nurses on the unit spent an average of only 6.59 hours a day at each patient's bedside, according to a preview of the website. The hospital said the reason was that it admitted more patients to the unit than expected.

Consumers also can compare nurse staffing at different hospitals, including one of the most important aspects of medical care: How many hours nurses spend caring for patients at their bedsides.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which is pushing legislation that would mandate hospitals to adhere to specific nurse-to-patient ratios, has said the hospital association's staffing project is intended to stall the legislation -- and does not guarantee a minimum amount of nursing care. The hospital association opposes ratios, saying they don't give hospitals enough flexibility to adjust the number of nurses based on how acutely ill patients are, and other factors.

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