Nurses, advocates of hospital staffing requirements decry Mayo Clinic’s ‘blackmail tactics’ – Twin Cities

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Minnesota Nurses Association members and sponsors of legislation to require hospitals to establish staffing levels took aim at Mayo Clinic on Monday for what they called “blackmail tactics” over the bills.

Late last week, a Mayo Clinic official in an email to Gov. Tim Walz and lawmakers said the health system would cancel billions of dollars in investments in Minnesota if the state enacts staffing requirements and a health care cost board. The Minnesota Reformer revealed the email in a story published Friday.

At a Monday news conference, Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, and union members railed against Mayo for deciding to outright oppose the bills and deliver an “ultimatum” at the “11th hour.” There are just two weeks left of the 2023 legislative session. Murphy said she hoped Mayo would stay in Minnesota and help be part of the solution to ongoing nursing shortages beleaguering the health care system.

“It’s not the first time that a powerful corporation has threatened to leave Minnesota if it doesn’t meet their demand,” said Murphy, a nurse. “This is incredibly frustrating to me. And to Mayo, I say stay. I say stay and participate and lead.”

Mayo in a statement said it has been working on the bill with lawmakers “for several months.”

In addition to remarks about the bills, members of MNA, which is currently engaged in contract negotiations with Mayo, shared their concerns about the current staffing situation at the system’s hospitals across southern Minnesota.

Establishing stricter requirements for staffing levels and mandating a staffing board at all hospitals would be a big step toward fixing the issues, union members and lawmakers said. Eight other states have already taken similar steps, said Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, the bill’s sponsor in the House.

Mayo is concerned about two policies in particular: a minimum nurse staffing requirement and a proposed board to address rising health care costs.

Those two policies are found in major health care packages passed by both the Senate and House, and lawmakers are working to smooth out the differences between the versions before sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Nurse staffing requirements, or the “Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act,” would require hospitals to create boards that would set minimum staffing levels for hospitals. Half of those boards would be made up of nurses.

A Health Care Affordability Board would set health care spending and cost-cutting targets and could fine hospitals up to half a million dollars for failing to meet goals.

While a health care bill containing both of those provisions has passed, work continues in a conference committee of the House and Senate to create a final version of the bill.

Mayo wants to be exempt from the nursing staff requirements and for lawmakers to remove the affordability board from the bill altogether. The health system says it already has a staffing system designed to suit its needs, and new regulations would fail to address what it says is the actual root issue: There aren’t enough nurses to provide adequate staffing.

Still, members of MNA say the current Mayo staffing system does not address their needs, hence their support for state-mandated boards at hospitals.

In a statement, Mayo Clinic said it hoped to still find a compromise on the staffing bill.

“We are disappointed with bill authors in the time being spent on a press conference when we could be using this time to make progress on a solution,” the statement said in part. “We agree our nursing staff face many challenges; however, we believe this bill does little to address the real challenge — recruitment and retention of the health care workers and staff Minnesotans need.”

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Hospital Association in a Monday statement said all its members oppose the staffing requirement, but they hope for a compromise.

“While we have had some positive discussions with the House author of the bill, we believe that there are still very significant issues that need to be addressed,” the association said in a statement. “We remain committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”

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