By Gintautas Dumcius
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday quietly signed a bill setting nurse staffing levels inside intensive care units at one nurse per one patient, depending on the stability of the patient.
The private bill-signing was attended by Rep. Denise Garlick, a Needham Democrat and registered nurse, and Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, a union that had been pushing for two ballot questions on nurse-patient ratios and CEO pay and hospital financial transparency.
Patrick's signature on the bill (H 4228) means the union will drop both initiative petitions, which were headed for the November ballot.
The union had previously clashed with the Massachusetts Hospital Association over the ballot questions, and the boards of both organizations agreed to the language in the bill.
Lynn Nicholas, the president and CEO of the hospital association, said in the association's weekend email newsletter that the bill "seeks a reasonable approach" and moves away from "fixed staffing for all patients, in all units" at all times.
"The legislation focuses on the Intensive Care Unit where there is a collaborative role for staff nurses, for nurses who manage care for all patients in an ICU, and for an acuity system to help determine the severity of an ICU patient's illness," she wrote.
But the nurses' union plans to continue to push on Beacon Hill for nurse staffing limits in all units, and will file legislation next session on hospital financial transparency.
Asked if they plan ballot initiatives in the future, Julie Pinkham, the union's executive director, said, "I hope we don't need it." She added: "If we have to return to the public...that's exactly what we'll do."
Patrick plans later on Monday to leave for Panama to attend the Tuesday inauguration of Panamanian President-elect Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez. The governor will be part of the White House's official delegation to Panama City, being led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Ballot law proponents face a Wednesday deadline to submit a final round of certified voter signatures needed to qualify initiative petitions for the Nov. 4 ballot.