KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Study: California’s Nursing-Ratio Law Saves Patients’ Lives

News outlets report on a study suggesting that California's mandatory nursing-ratio law saves patient lives.

"If similar laws were enacted in such states as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the number of patient deaths in those states could be reduced by as much as 14 percent, according to the study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the journal Health Services Research," The Sacramento Bee reports. "In 1999, California was the first in the nation to establish minimum nurse-to-patient staffing levels at hospitals across the state. The law was implemented in January 2004, despite fierce opposition from hospitals and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then, 14 states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar staffing laws, and 17 other states are considering legislation, according to the study. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced federal legislation to extend minimum staffing levels across the country." In this study, the researchers "used a 2006 survey of 22,336 nurses and patient discharge data in California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to establish a relationship between the number of deaths and nurse staffing levels." The study's findings indicated "substantial compliance with California's law, but it also indicated that some hospitals weren't always adhering to staffing requirements. On average in 2006, nurses in California cared for one less patient than their counterparts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania" (Calvan, 4/21).

CQ HealthBeat: "The researchers used predicted probabilities of dying from adjusted models to estimate how many fewer deaths would have occurred in New Jersey and Pennsylvania hospitals if the average patient-to-nurse ratios in those hospitals were the same as the average ratio across the California hospitals They said there would have been 13.9 percent fewer surgical deaths in New Jersey and 10.6 percent fewer surgical deaths in Pennsylvania" (Norman, 4/21).

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