Mid-Atlantic Health Law TOPICS

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California Nurse-to-Patient Ratios

California is the first state to limit the number of patients that may be assigned to each hospital nurse. More specifically, California has issued proposed regulations mandating nurse-to-patient ratios that vary according to the level of care required by each type of patient.

For instance, a 1 to 1 ratio has been set for trauma units, while a 1 to 6 nurse to patient ratio has been set for medical/surgical units.

The proposed regulations also set the following ratios:

Post-Partum Mothers with Babies1:4
Post-Partum Mothers Alone1:6
Labor and Delivery 1:2
Post-Anesthesia Care1:2
Critical Care1:2
Burn Unit1:2
Specialty Care & Oncology1:5

The regulations also maintain five ratios that have already been implemented in California:

Intensive/Critical Care1:2
Operating Rooms1:1
Neonatal Intensive Care1:2
Intermediate Care Nursery1:4
Well-Baby Nursery1:8

The proposed regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2004, unless the California Department of Health Services makes modifications in the interim.
California hospitals are predicting that these ratios will lead to increased hospital costs, and, therefore, also indirectly cause cutbacks in other areas. In addition, full implementation of the ratios in California will require the daunting task of finding an estimated 5,000 new nurses in the midst of an existing nursing shortage.


June 22, 2003




Rosen, Barry F.


Health Care