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SNMH nurses happy about Davis’ plan

John HartRegistered nurse Sonya Peterson talks to patient Harry Trautz of Penn Valley at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Wednesday. Peterson is thrilled about Gov. Gray Davis' proposed nurse-to-patient ratios.
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Gov. Gray Davis’ announcement this week proposing new nurse-to-patient ratios is drawing rave reviews from nurses at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, even as the facility’s owner wonders how it will pay the cost or recruit additional help.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting for this kind of news to come,” said Sonya Peterson, a registered nurse who works in Sierra Nevada’s emergency, cardiac and outpatient wards.



“Patients are our main concern, and we want to give them the best care we can. It’s the first time something like this has been done to address our needs,” she said.




Under new guidelines announced Tuesday, there will be one nurse for every five patients in the cardiac unit, where Peterson worked Wednesday. At times, the staffing in the cardiac ward at SNMH has been as high as one nurse for every 10 patients.

On paper, SNMH spokesman Gary Cooke said, the hospital shouldn’t have a difficult time meeting the new standards, which face a regulatory process before they are adopted.

“We’re in pretty good shape, and we feel like the standards will have a minimal fiscal impact on us,” he said.

Cooke said the hospital has bucked statewide trends of high nursing turnover and vacancy rates, so it may be easier for SNMH than for other hospitals to meet the new ratios.

In the third quarter of 2001, for example, SNMH experienced a 3 percent turnover rate, besting the state’s 3.9 percent average. The hospital had 11.9 percent of its nursing positions vacant, slightly better than the 12.2 percent statewide figure.

By 2006, the state is projecting a shortage of 25,000 registered nurses.

“We’ll probably have to increase our recruiting budget for nurses, but this proposal will be good for everyone,” Cooke said.

The California Nurses Association represents the majority of nurses employed by Catholic Healthcare West hospitals, which includes SNMH.

The CNA has long lobbied for better staffing ratios, saying improved staffing would lure back nurses who have left the field, and encourage others to take up the profession.

“If this is what it takes to bring them back, then we’re glad to have (the ratios),” Cooke said.

Under the new guidelines, there will be one nurse for every two patients in labor and delivery; one for every six medical or surgical patients, and one nurse for every four pediatric patients. Current ratios range from 1-to-3 to 1-to-20 statewide.

“This is the most sweeping systemic health-care reform that you’re going to see,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, CNA executive director.

Mark Klein, vice president of corporate communications for CHW, which includes 42 hospitals in California, Arizona and Nevada, likened the new ratios to an unfunded mandate.

He said the chain is unsure how to pay for additional staffing or recruitment efforts. The governor hasn’t made it clear how the standards can be achieved.

“We will comply with whatever standards will be approved,” he said, adding that, “Simply mandating ratios does not pay for or provide additional nurses.”

The California Healthcare Association, which represents nearly 500 hospitals in the state, estimates that the new regulations will cost hospitals a minimum of $400 million a year in extra wages and benefits.

The news is good for Beth Leo, another SNMH nurse, whose mother, Wendy Newsom, is also a nurse at the hospital’s intensive care unit.

“Nursing is just compassion for people,” she said. “This will help our profession.”

– The Associated Press

contributed to this report.


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