Business & Tech

Mass. business groups oppose nurses’ ballot question

Leilani Hover, a nurse at Berkshire Medical Center, marched with about 100 other nurses on the picket line outside the Pittsfield hospital on Oct. 3 last year. The Massachusetts Nurses Association had called a one-day strike that day.
Stephanie Zollshan/Associated Press/File 2017
Leilani Hover, a nurse at Berkshire Medical Center, marched with about 100 other nurses on the picket line outside the Pittsfield hospital on Oct. 3 last year. The Massachusetts Nurses Association had called a one-day strike that day.

Four of the state’s largest business groups have united in opposition to a proposed ballot initiative that would mandate nurse staffing levels for all Massachusetts hospitals.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable warned Thursday that setting strict limits on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time would significantly raise health-care costs that would be passed on to patients, through higher insurance rates.

“Health-care costs are already a burden for many families and employers across Massachusetts,” Eileen McAnneny, president of the Taxpayers Foundation, said in a prepared statement. “Massachusetts should use its health-care dollars to focus on more pressing priorities, like mental health care and addiction treatment, rather than this self-serving ballot initiative,” she said.

Advertisement

The ballot question has set off a battle between the nurses union and hospitals. Supporters of the measure, backed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, say it is necessary because nurses often are overburdened. That leaves them unable to provide the best possible care and increases the risk of patient falls, infections, and other complications, they say.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A hospital industry group, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, painted a dire picture if the measure were to pass in November. The association said hospitals collectively would have to hire at least 4,500 new nurses to comply, at a cost of $880 million per year. The additional costs would force some hospitals to turn away patients, shutter some services, or perhaps close entirely, hospital executives say.

The nurses union challenges those estimates.

James Rooney, president of the Greater Boston Chamber, said nurses are a critical part of the health-care system.

However, Rooney said by telephone Thursday, “Rather than use a ballot question, I think there should be an element of trust in . . . both the doctors and the nurses, to make decisions about the care.”

Advertisement

One more round of signatures is needed by July to get the measure on the November ballot.

Margeaux Sippell can be reached at margeaux.sippell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Margeaux
Sippell