|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 15, 2004
Ventura County Star 11-13-04
State attorneys decided Friday that the Schwarzenegger administration's request to ease staffing ratios for hospital nurses is legally justified.
The ruling from the Office of Administrative Law allows hospitals to
suspend for three years a plan to lower the patient ratio on medical-surgical
floors to one nurse for every five patients. The new standard was due
to take effect in January. Currently, the ratio stands at 1-to-6.
The president of the California Nurses Association said the organization would fight the decision.
"It's going to be a long fight, but CNA is used to painting the long-range picture and usually getting what we need to protect our patients," said Deborah Burger, president of the 58,000-member organization.
She said the nurses union was considering all its options, including legal action and public pressure to get the decision rescinded. A rally at the governor's office is planned Dec. 1.
The state Department of Health Services sought the emergency regulations, citing reports that hospitals were turning away patients and closing emergency rooms because they couldn't find enough nurses to meet the ratios.
Attorneys in the Office of Administrative Law evaluated the request based strictly on legal considerations, said Bill Gausewitz, director of the state agency.
He said the Department of Health Services proposal passed the legal tests that the office considers: whether an agency has laid the foundation for adopting the emergency regulations and whether its proposal otherwise met the standards of a state law governing administrative procedures.
"We don't actually evaluate whether or not it's a good idea, and it's not just in this case," Gausewitz said. "It's in any regulation."
Rhonda Spiegel, vice president of patient care services at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, welcomed the decision.
"I think it's a wise and practical thing," she said.
"It assures the public access to health care. California currently has the most stringent nurse-to-patient ratios of any other state in the country. This next step would have made it that much more difficult."
She also applauded the decision to allow emergency rooms to exceed the ratios during large and unexpected influxes of patients.
"There are times when we have four, five, six ambulances bringing patients to the emergency department at a time, Spiegel said.
"It's impossible to both respond to patient care emergencies and comply with nurse-patient ratios."
Gausewitz said emergency regulations are legal when an agency shows they cannot be delayed long enough to complete the regular rule-making process, and that they are needed to preserve public health and safety.
With the 1-5 ratio due to take effect in seven weeks, there would not have been enough time for the normal state process of adopting regulations, he said.
He said the only way for opponents to appeal the decision is to go to court. It is due to take effect once the emergency regulations are filed with the state Secretary of State's office, Gausewitz said.
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