Controversial regulations over nurse hospital staffing were removed from legislation Monday that will instead focus on preventing violence against nurses and studying the reasons why they burn out and leave the profession.
The result was an extraordinary compromise for a bill that was steamrolling through the Legislature, with backing by DFL leaders and the Minnesota Nurses Association, until Mayo Clinic raised objections. It was the final deal struck this session, and both the House and Senate passed the bill with bipartisan support shortly before they adjourned for the year.
The bill known as the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act was so fundamentally changed after that influential opposition that its sponsors retitled it the Nurse and Patient Safety Act.
"That bill has died," said a teary Mary Turner, president of the MNA and an intensive care nurse at North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale. "And I'm heartbroken. For those nurses who choose to stay at the bedside, though, the language in this agreement will help them to feel safe in their jobs."
Mayo had threatened to relocate a billion-dollar expansion to another state if the nursing staffing committee requirements advanced. Lawmakers eventually agreed to a compromise — with influence from Gov. Tim Walz — that would exempt all of Mayo's hospitals in southeastern Minnesota from the committee requirements.
Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said that triggered discontent over the weekend among other legislators who didn't like a situational bill that spared Mayo but applied to all other hospitals in the state.
"That carveout is gone," she said. "It was offensive to all of us."
The MNA and supportive lawmakers have been advocating for nurse staffing legislation since 2008, and the latest version dropped the most contentious idea of fixed statewide nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals. California is one of the few states to use fixed ratios, but more than a dozen have already enacted hospital staffing committees.
Minnesota would have been one of the first to use binding arbitration to set staffing levels when committee members couldn't agree, and that loss of control drew strong opposition from hospital leaders.
Turner said she hopes the legislation protects nurses and resets expectations because some nurses have come to expect assaults by visitors or patients as routine occupational hazards.
The legislation also extends loan forgiveness programs to try to build up staffing levels in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.