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    Nurses rally for ballot initiative on staffing, target hospital execs

    Karen Coughlin (left) and Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, during Tuesday’s rally at the Somerville headquarters of Partners HealthCare.
    PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF
    Karen Coughlin (left) and Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, during Tuesday’s news conference at the Somerville headquarters of Partners HealthCare.

    SOMERVILLE — The battle for Question 1 is officially on.

    The Massachusetts Nurses Association, the labor union behind the statewide ballot question to increase nurse staffing in hospitals, slammed hospital executives Tuesday for opposing the measure.

    The ballot question would set strict limits on the numbers of patients assigned to hospital nurses. Union officials say it’s necessary to ensure that patients receive safe care. Hospital executives say the policy is ill-conceived and enormously costly, and they have been paying for television ads that make that argument.

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    Union officials held a press conference Tuesday outside the hulking corporate office of Partners HealthCare to target hospital leaders and their big salaries. Partners is the state’s largest hospital system.

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    “Hospital executives are the reason that we need safe patient limits in the first place,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the nurses association. “Hospital executives are the ones who have ignored nurses’ concerns, claiming a lack of resources for safe patient care, while pocketing seven-figure salaries.”

    Hospital executives say the ballot question would force them to hire thousands of additional nurses in a matter of weeks and would cost nearly $1 billion a year. And they argue that they would have to close 1,000 beds for psychiatric patients across the state because they wouldn’t be able to hire enough nurses to comply with the ratios mandated by the ballot language.

    The hospitals-backed coalition opposing the ballot question criticized the union’s “publicity stunt” Tuesday and accused the union of making a “self-serving attempt to increase its membership.”

    Patients are safest “when staffing decisions are made in real time by the nurses and health care professionals delivering care, not by union leaders and rigid government mandates,” the group said in a statement.

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    Expect more barbs to be thrown between now and Election Day.

    Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.