DeLeo: No Opinion on Nurses Ballot Question
By Colin A. Young
State House News Service
BOSTON -- House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not yet decided how he will vote on an issue that has become one of this year’s most contentious election topics, the ballot question limiting how many patients can be assigned to each nurse in hospitals and health care facilities.
With three weeks to go until voters will be asked to weigh in on the significant health care policy question which has a long history on Beacon Hill, DeLeo told reporters after the Health Policy Commission’s annual cost trends hearing Tuesday that he’s been too tied up with other contests to pay much attention to Question 1.
“Quite frankly, I’ve been so involved relative to trying to make sure that the Democratic candidates have been successful and my involvement with Question 3 that I’ve been heavily involved with that I can’t say that I’ve really been heavily involved one way or the other with Question 1,” DeLeo said, referring to the ballot question that seeks to repeal the transgender public accommodations law. DeLeo supports retaining that law.
Asked whether he plans to make his opinion on Question 1 known before the Nov. 6 election, DeLeo said, “Right now, we’ll see what happens. But right now, again, most of my emphasis and my attention has been focused on Democratic candidates for representatives and Question 3.”
The idea of imposing limits on how many patients can be assigned to a nurse is not a new one on Beacon Hill.
As House Ways and Means Committee chairman in 2006, DeLeo voted “yes” on a bill that would have instructed the Department of Public Health “to formulate a set of standards and limits, with latitude allowed for variations between hospitals, governing how many patients each nurse could handle,” the News Service reported at the time. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, then a Republican representative from Shrewsbury, also voted in favor of the staffing limits in 2006.
Two years later, in May 2008, DeLeo again voted in favor of a proposal that “instructs the Department of Public Health to establish limits and standards for hospital nurse staffing levels,” the News Service reported. Polito voted in opposition to the proposal in 2008.
The Legislature had a chance to take action of its own to address nurse staffing and avoid having the issue decided by statewide voters at the ballot box, but opted not to.
Nurses prepared their proposal for the statewide ballot, following a trend that has worked recently for marijuana advocates and groups pushing for a higher minimum wage.
Earlier this week, a WBUR poll of 500 registered nurses found 48 percent support Question 1, 45 percent oppose it, while 8 percent don’t know, are undecided or refused to answer the question. The 3 percentage point difference between nurses for and against Question 1 is within the poll’s 4.4 percent margin of error.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who had already said he would vote against the nurse staffing ratio proposal, reiterated at the hearing Tuesday that his decision was based on the HPC’s report on the potential costs of implementing the proposed law. Democrat for governor Jay Gonzalez and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh are among the proposal’s supporters.
The HPC analysis estimated that implementing the nurse to patient staffing ratios called for in the ballot question would cost the health care system between $676 million and $949 million and would require 2,286 to 3,101 additional full-time nurses to be hired.