Governor blocks nurses with new ’emergency’

The contest between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Nurses Association went into overtime this week, when the governor declared a second emergency order to avoid implementing a law mandating every hospital in the state to maintain certain nurse-to-patient ratios.

In response the CNA held a press conference and asked why if the governor was going to scuttle the ratio, did the state earmark $27 million in Medi-Cal funds specifically to help hospitals meet the requirement?

Last fall Schwarzenegger declared his first emergency order to keep the law, which requires every hospital in the state to have a minimum of one registered nurse for every five patients, from going into effect on its scheduled date of Jan. 1. So the CNA filed a lawsuit against the governor and led a number or protests on the Capitol lawn.

The suit said “patients who suffer serious injury and death as minimum standards of safe care and patient protection are stripped away by the very agency [Department of Health Services] charged under law with responsibility for ensuring protection of hospital patient health and safety.”

“Where did that money go and why is there another $50 million earmarked to meet the ratio in the next fiscal year,” asked CNA spokesperson Chuck Idelson during an interview this week.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Judy Holzer Hersher tossed out governor’s the emergency order March 4, saying it was illegal. She also denied the request of hospital administrators for a stay until an appeal to the law could be heard.

On the same day the governor issued a new emergency order in response to the judge’s ruling.

“This new ’emergency order’ should be dead in the water,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, the CNA’s executive director, in a press release. “This governor has no more authority to overthrow the judicial system than it does to overthrow the Legislature.”

The press release said this latest emergency order was just as illegal as the original, in that it placed economic considerations over patient safety.

In her ruling, the press release said, the judge had said the governor’s order “was an abuse of discretion and not adopted in the manner required by law.”

She ruled that the DHS had failed to make any connection between reported closings of hospitals and the implementation of staffing regulations.

“The court interprets the legislation as intended to protect and ensure the ‘quality of patient care’ for patients who already have been admitted to acute-care settings,” DeMoro said.

Calls to the Governor’s Office and the DHS were not returned by press time.