Proposed legislation in Augusta, L.D. 1639, would require health care facilities to enforce strict nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

We can all agree that the nursing shortage is a significant problem for all Maine hospitals. But this bill does nothing to solve it. In fact, it would make the problem worse, and patients would likely be affected most.

Imagine, after learning you need to be admitted to your local hospital, you are told beds that had been available the day before are now closed, and you must be sent to another hospital, perhaps out of state.

Adherence to this proposed law would cause hospitals to open or close beds every 12 hours, depending on the number of nurses who are available for work on a shift. This chaos and uncertainty in daily acute care capacity would bring us back to the worst days of the pandemic, when very sick patients had limited access to much-needed care.

At first glance, the idea of mandated staffing ratios may seem like a good idea. However, when you take a closer look at the issue, it becomes clear that this legislation could have serious negative consequences for our patients and communities.

The danger of L.D. 1639 lies in the fact that it would limit access to care in our hospitals. Despite our aggressive efforts to hire more nurses — including offering free education and recruiting nurses from across the globe — Maine, like the rest of the nation, does not have enough nurses to meet our needs. Maine has 2,250 unfilled nursing positions, with no relief in sight until at least 2025.


This legislation would not create more nurses. Rather, it would force us to close our hospital beds and emergency treatment rooms when we cannot comply with the mandate. St Mary’s Health System and Central Maine Medical Center would be forced to close beds, including critical care and behavioral health beds, limiting services in our region.

Legislators who falsely believe this bill would manufacture nurses are not talking about the reality of closed hospital beds and emergency treatment rooms. Plainly speaking, this bill has the potential to severely limit access to hospital care.

In recent months, both St. Mary’s and CMMC have had success in recruiting new nurses. And that success is a product of our commitment to safe staffing — not just in nursing, but in other critical roles, as well.

Our ability to continue to recruit and retain nurses depends on our ability to employ the right number of personnel on every shift. We have our own incentives to address nursing burnout and frustration, which are caused by inadequate staffing, workplace violence and other factors.

We also have the ability to flex our staff appropriately, which ensures our ability to care for patients when we are faced with surges in demand for our beds and services. This bill takes that flexibility away. It would leave us with no choice but to turn patients away when the nurse staffing plan doesn’t fit a formula crafted by lay people in our Legislature.

The fact is, there are already staffing guidelines in place at Maine hospitals, and our safety record testifies to their effectiveness. When clinicians have the flexibility to deploy resources where they are most needed, based on patient condition rather than arbitrary state mandates, our hospitals are able to maximize available resources to provide the best possible care.

As health care organizations dedicated to our community, we are committed to ensuring that patients have access to the care they need when they need it. We believe that the best way to accomplish this is by focusing on efforts to increase the pool of qualified nurses with expanded educational opportunities, loan forgiveness, and fair pay and benefits for those who choose to enter this rewarding but demanding profession.

We urge Maine legislators to reject L.D. 1639 and instead focus on policies that would increase access to care and support our health care providers. We believe that by working together, we can ensure that every Mainer has access to the quality health care they deserve.

Steve Jorgensen is CEO of St. Mary’s Health System. Patricia Scherle, RN, is chief nursing officer of St. Mary’s Health System. Steve Littleson is CEO of Central Maine Healthcare. Kris Chaisson, RN, is chief nursing officer of Central Maine Healthcare.

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