Nurse staffing could cost hospitals millions

The Associated Press
Friday July 27, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — An analysis of proposed staffing ratios of nurses to patients determined the changes could cost California hospitals millions of dollars, according to a study released Thursday. 

The Public Policy Institute of California analyzed three proposed staffing ratios.  

In main medical and surgical wards, a ratio of one nurse to 10 patients is supported by hospitals, while a ratio of 1-to-4 is backed by the Service Employees International Union and Kaiser Permanente, the state’s largest private health care system. A third proposal from the California Nurses Association suggests a 1-to-3 ratio. 

The ratios could send hospital costs up for RNs by between 5 percent and 41 percent, according to the institute’s review. 

The hospital-backed ratio could result in an average annual increase of $200,000 per hospital, while the SEIU ratio could cost more than $1.3 million per hospital, the study found.  

And the CNA-supported ratio could cost as much as $2.3 million per hospital. 

At least 50 percent of hospitals in California would have to make changes to conform to the new regulations, according to the analysis. 

“The Department of Health Services has a very tough task on their hands,” said Joanne Spetz, a research fellow with PPIC.  

“Science can’t tell them what the answer is at this point; I don’t think there’s any study that can really tell you that. I think it’s fundamentally a value decision – how much are you willing to pay for how much care?” 

The state must set a nurse staffing ratio for registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses by January 2002, according to a law written by the California Nurses Association and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. 

The PPIC estimates that the average nurse staffing ratio in the state is 1-to-7, but the actual ratios vary greatly from hospital to hospital, Spetz said.