As drafted, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s well-intentioned “Patient Protection Act,” which would set specific nurse-to-patient ratios for hospitals operating in the city [“District to weigh boosting nurse staffs,” Metro, Feb. 5], invites presumably unintended consequences that could significantly increase health-care costs and decrease access to care.
Under the bill, hospitals in violation of staffing requirements will face civil penalties of up to $25,000 a day, regardless of whether any patient suffers a resulting injury. But it doesn’t limit civil enforcement to the D.C. attorney general. As a result, entrepreneurial personal-injury lawyers could file costly lawsuits, as they did in California three years ago. There, personal-injury lawyers won a jaw-dropping $677 million class-action verdict against an operator of 22 assisted-care facilities across the state, not to compensate any injured persons but simply because records showed occasional dips below mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.