by Jerry Flanagan, 9:45 a.m. PST - (415) 633-1320
A CalHealthConsensus tipster tells us that we can expect a new episode of the nurse-to-patient regulation saga to unfold soon. In this round, the hospitals plan to blame the new regulations for the likes of Tenet Healthcare and other hospital corporateers that have been pillaging the California the health care system for years.
In December, the California Hospital Association (CHA) was betting they had convinced Governor Schwarzenegger to oppose regulations implementing a new law requiring minimum standards for the number of nurses a hospital must employ. But Schwarzenegger told the hospitals that they were on their own.
Scrambling, CHA, the hospital's lobbying group, filed a lawsuit hours before the regulations were to go into effect on January 1. The result is a brawl between the hospitals, the Governor who was none too keen on the public display, and the Health and Human Services Agency Secretary, Kim Belshé, who oversees the Department of Health Services that wrote the regulation.
Now, CHA is on the verge of upping the ante by filing a second lawsuit designed to suspend the rules altogether. The new lawsuit is reported to target nurse-to-patient requirements for Emergency Rooms that the hospitals claim are keeping them from treating critical care patients.
The real reason that hospitals are scrambling to treat patients in their ERs is not because of new nurse-to-patient ratio regulations but because of a lack of independent oversight. For decades, hospitals like Tenet -- who announced last week that it is selling off hospitals to avoid seismic retrofit costs -- have been allowed to loot the system at the expense of planning for the future, in particular by closing hospitals and their emergency rooms. As a result, ER diversions have been occurring regularly since the mid-90s.
The answer to California's hospital crisis is the adoption of time-tested independent oversight and system wide planning like Maryland has done since 1971, not a knee-jerk reaction to the state's nurse-to-patient ratio law.