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Editorial: Keep the state out of nursing

The compromise in St. Paul to study hospital staffing, while not an ideal outcome, certainly is better than the government meddling in how many nurses are on duty, and when and where, at privately owned and operated health-care facilities.

The proposal to allow the state to set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios came from the nursing union, the Minnesota Nurses Association. Because such ratios almost certainly would result in more nurses required by law than are now employed to staff virtually any conceivable emergency, the proposal was seen as a power grab by the union to bolster its membership numbers and its dues-filled coffers.

The proposal was a threat to the bottom lines of many health-care facilities, especially cash-strapped smaller ones, which rely on the sort of staff flexibility to control costs and to stay in business that government-mandated staffing ratios would have taken away.

Thankfully, this union-supported government intrusion, which actually was being considered at the Legislature, seems now to be on hold. That’s thanks to a negotiated compromise between nurses and the Minnesota Hospital Association. The deal, according to news reports, calls for hospitals to develop staffing plans and provide quarterly reports online on the amount of time caregivers spend with patients. The state Health Department is to study the data and publish findings by January 2015.

Hospital operators agree with the arrangement because it doesn’t include the government-mandated nursing ratios. And the nurses union agrees, according to Becker’s Hospital Review, because, “It is a big step for hospitals to take on more transparency about staffing information.”

That’s what compromise is all about: both sides at least on board. And if short of an ideal outcome, this compromise at least doesn’t allow government to tell a private business how it needs to operate.