Our Opinion: Question 1 vote was not 'anti-nurse'

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Tuesday's defeat of Question 1, which would have determined strict nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in Massachusetts hospitals, should not be misinterpreted as an "anti-nurse" vote. Bay Staters — as do citizens everywhere — admire and respect the role nurses play as well as appreciate the trying circumstances under which they work. Rather, by its "No" vote, the Massachusetts electorate showed its unwillingness to become a party in a highly technical controversy that would be better resolved by nurses and management working together.

Simply put, Question 1 — while having a achieved a lawful place on Tuesday's ballot — was not an issue to be decided in a political context. Its appearance came following repeated failures by the nurses' union to achieve staffing goals by legislative action. The money-fueled political campaign that followed served only to muddy the waters.

Relatively late in the campaign, a report issued by the independent Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, a quasi-governmental body, revealed the staggering potential cost of a "Yes" vote to the state health care system and to payers of health insurance premiums. The Commission had credibility because it was aligned with neither side, and there is little doubt that its findings influenced the lopsided proportion of the final tally. It was both welcome and timely in that it finally provided some clarity to confused voters.

Just because the question failed does not mean that the issues it addressed are not legitimate and do not remain in need of resolution. Such matters should be discussed in the collective bargaining venue where they belong and where they were when Berkshire Medical Center and its nurses reached a contract agreement after a long, contentious dispute. Fortunately for Massachusetts consumers of health care services, whatever solution reached in this manner is unlikely to follow the one-size-fits-all model embodied by Question 1. Complex issues defy easy resolution by simplistic ballot questions.




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