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Minnesota doctors silent on possible nurses strike against hospitals

With Twin Cities nurses now poised to strike indefinitely against local hospitals, the debate has descended into the familiar roles of hardworking, resourceful  nurses versus financially besieged hospitals, with both groups claiming the role of patient advocate. But one crucial voice has been noticeably silent — the doctors. On the top issue dividing the Minnesota […]

With Twin Cities nurses now poised to strike indefinitely against local hospitals, the debate has descended into the familiar roles of hardworking, resourceful  nurses versus financially besieged hospitals, with both groups claiming the role of patient advocate.

But one crucial voice has been noticeably silent — the doctors.

On the top issue dividing the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) and six metro hospital chains — the nurses’ demand for set staffing ratios — the union representing local physicians is staying mum.

“We have decided to not take a position,” said Scott Smith, a spokesman for the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA).

In some ways, it’s not entirely surprising that the MMA should remain neutral — doctors have to work with both nurses and hospitals after all. But given the nurses’ insistence that anything less than mandated staffing ratios threatens patient safety, the MMA’s silence is deafening.

There’s plenty of literature and experts to back the nurses. But who better to know this than doctors, whose collaboration with nurses is crucial to patient care?

As far as I can tell, the American Medical Association, the MMA’s parent union, hasn’t said anything definitive either.

“Physicians and nurses need to act together to improve working conditions that impair the relationship between them to provide better patient care in a safe, collaborative environment,” and the AMA “believes it is essential that nurses, physicians and hospitals continue to work cooperatively to confront the growing staffing challenges that lie ahead in the healthcare industry,” according to report presented to the AMA annual meeting in 2001.

Doesn’t seem like anyone in Minnesota has heeded this advice.

Could be that docs just don’t believe in mandated staffing levels. Or could be physicians have more important things to worry about, like the prospect of lower Medicare payments under the new federal reform law.

Speaking of reform, the nurses possible strike couldn’t come at a worse time for everyone involved. Next week, the state will launch its pay-for-performance program for participants in its employee and public insurance plans. Created under the healthcare reform law Minnesota passed two years ago, the program provides incentive payments for hospitals and ambulance companies that meet certain quality benchmarks.

And if there’s one thing that nurses, hospitals and doctors can agree on, they would all like more money.