Ely-Bloomenson Officials Say Bill Hoping to Help Patient Care Could Hurt Hospital

By KBJR News 1

March 14, 2013 Updated Mar 14, 2013 at 9:15 PM CDT

Ely, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A bill being circulated in the Minnesota legislature would require hospitals to staff nurses at a level consistent with national standards.But officials at some rural hospitals say they're concerned the legislation aimed at improving hospital care, could have a negative impact on their rural facilities.

"It devalues our system by which our nurses are empowered to call in help as they need it," said Ely-Bloomenson Hospital Administrator, John Fossum.

The Standards of Care Act would call for hospitals to have a set number of nurses on duty, determined by patient number. Ely–Bloomenson is exempt from the requirements under the house version of the bill, but officials at the hospital say they're still concerned about the possibility that they'll have to comply.

"This law will definitely tie our hands," said Ely-Bloomenson Director of Nursing, Becky Gaulke.

Gaulke and Fossum say if the law goes into effect at nearby hospitals the impact on Ely would be great.

"To make sure that they match with their ratios [required by the Standards of Care Act], this could have the perverse effect of having these hospitals take in patients that could have been treated in rural communities," said Fossum.

Fossum and Gaulke say one of their biggest concerns is that the nurses would follow the patients to the hospitals required to comply with the staffing legislation, leaving hospitals like Ely short on staff.

"They're [the hospitals] going to have to increase wages to get people to move to where they want to go. It's not going to be a hard problem for any of our nurses to go to Virginia to make ten, twenty, thirty dollars an hour more," said Gaulke.

One of the bill's authors, Representative Joe Atkins (DFL) of Inver Grove Heights, said in a news release in support of the bill that it would save lives.

"It's clear from study after study that safe Standards of Care save lives," said Atkins in the news release, "We know this is a difficult issue, but we want to work with the hospitals on this -- in fact, we've already reached out to them. We need to find a solution that works for nurses, hospitals, and most importantly, works for patients and keeps them safe.”

The legislation also has the backing of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) which says that patients are at risk because there aren't enough nurses on duty.

"We are excited to officially begin the legislative process that will institute Standards of Care in every hospital, on every shift, for every patient throughout Minnesota,” said MNA President Linda Hamilton, in the news release, “The lawmakers here share our concern that patients are needlessly at risk in our hospitals because not enough skilled registered nurses are on duty to adequately handle the needs of vulnerable people in the acute care setting."

Those at Ely–Bloomenson say they hope the bill won't pass, so hospitals can worry about fixing their patients instead of fighting a bill that hopes to fix them.

"The bill is a solution looking for a problem," said Fossum.

Gaulke says she might testify against the bill during a hearing at the Capitol on Friday.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.