NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

California Mandates Nurse To Patient Ratios

October 12, 1999

California politicians are now making the decisions regarding nursing personnel, clearly signaling that hospitals are incapable of the job.

At the behest of the state's nurses' union, Gov. Gray Davis (D) has signed a bill that makes California the only state to require hospitals to meet fixed nurse-to-patient ratios.

  • The act requires the State Department of Health Services to set ratios for general, psychiatric and special hospitals.
  • The measure also bars hospitals from assigning unlicensed workers to perform certain medical procedures -- including administering drugs and assessing a patient's condition.
  • It prohibits hospitals from shifting nurses trained in one unit to duty in another without adequate preparation.
  • Under a political compromise, the measure is not supposed to take effect until 2002.

The California health-care industry opposed the measure on the grounds that it would impose overly specific requirements on hospitals and increase costs.

The president of the California Nurses Association enthused that the signing of the bill represented "one of the most significant days in the history of nursing."

Davis's Republican predecessor, former Gov. Pete Wilson, vetoed a similar measure two years ago.

Source: Todd S. Purdum, "California to Set Level of Staffing for Nursing Care," New York Times, October 12, 1999.


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