Editorial: State should stay out of hospitalsPublished 10:23am Friday, February 22, 2013
A bill introduced at the Capitol this winter would set a dangerous precedent for government interference in business operations. The proposed law would, in essence, give the state government control of how hospitals determine their staffing levels. While the measure has been advertised as one designed to improve patient care, it also clearly puts the state in charge of how health care companies do business — and that is wrong.
The debate over staffing ratios — specifically, how many nurses should be on duty for a given number of patients — has raged for years. This year’s legislation is the latest skirmish in that battle. We don’t offer here an opinion on what the correct ratio is or on whether hospitals generally follow best practices; we are not qualified to do that. Nor, of course, is the state government. And that is our point.
The bill proposes, in essence, that rules on hospital staffing be set by a panel whose members would mostly be nurses. The resulting rules would likely favor nurses (who are as a whole a deserving and hard-working group) but would perhaps have little relevance to issues of efficiency and cost control, both of which are also important to patients. The larger point is no government-sponsored commission is going to be properly balanced to consider all the needs of the health care industry and its customers. While health care is anything but a free market now, putting it under closer government control would not be likely to truly improve the system. Almost nothing improves when it is under government control.
We hope hospitals and their dedicated nursing staffs can resolve questions about how many nurses should be on duty at any given time, either through negotiations or some other mechanism. But using the blunt tool of state government to manage something as sensitive as staffing ratios makes no sense.