What you need to know about Massachusetts Question 1

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(WPRI) — Massachusetts voters who head to the polls on Tuesday will be asked whether to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, a proposal that is becoming increasingly unpopular, according to a recent poll.

The ballot question is backed by the Massachusetts Nursing Association, which says nurses are being asked to care for too many patients at a time than is safe. But the hospital industry warns the ratio requirements would cost millions of dollars to hire more nurses, and the costs could be passed on to patients through health insurance premium hikes.

If passed by voters on Nov. 6, the new law would create different nurse-to-patient ratios for different hospital units. For example, nurses in post-anesthesia care would be limited to one patient while nurses caring for non-urgent stable patients could care for up to five at a time.

“The one thing that this does different is it really, for the first time, gives a vote to people and puts them in control of health care,” Julie Pinkham with the Massachusetts Nurses Association said.

An analysis commissioned by the state’s independent Health Policy Commission found that the new law would require thousands of nurses to be hired and could cost between $676 million and $949 million per year.

After the report came out in October, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he would vote no on Question 1, citing concerns about the cost and the impact on community hospitals.

John Nash, the CEO of Franciscan Children’s Hospital, weighed in on how that hospital would be affected.

“What we would have to do in order to comply with the regulation is to cut back about one-third of our beds,” Nash said. “Which would mean for us, a $2.5 million revenue loss on our bottom line, and we’re a break-even charitable organization.”

The Massachusetts Nurses Association disputed the report’s findings, arguing it relied too much on hospital industry data.

“If I have four patients and you put on your call button, I can get to you. If I have eight, you wait. What happens when you wait? Sometimes, something bad happens,” Pinkham said.

A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely voters released on Oct. 29 found voters are opposed to Question 1 by a margin of 59 percent to 32 percent, a reversal from a poll in September that showed a majority of voters supported the measure.

“Since September, groups opposed to patient limits, including the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, have spent heavily on advertising,” the authors of the poll results wrote.

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