Colorado recently became one of the only states to pass a law that requires hospitals to form nurse staffing committees to ensure these facilities have enough providers on hand to deal with the influx of patients. All hospitals in the state must form a committee by September 1, or they may be subject to fines.
But Governor Jared Polis (D) recently announced that he may not enforce the law for at least the first year that it’s in effect to avoid fining hospitals that are already short-staffed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the law, each nurse staffing committee must “create, implement, and evaluate a nurse staffing plan and … receive, track and resolve complaints and receive feedback from direct care nurses and other staff.” The committees must also submit their findings to the state annually and post their staffing plans on the hospital’s website to increase transparency.
Hospitals are now required to report the baseline number of beds the hospital is able to staff as well as its current bed capacity. If the facility’s staffing capacity falls below 80% of the required baseline within a specified period, the hospital must inform the state and submit a plan to meet the baseline.
The law gives the state the power to fine hospitals up to $10,000 for every day the hospital fails to:
- Meet the required staffed-bed capacity
- Include the amount of necessary vaccines for administration in its annual emergency plan and have the vaccines available at each of its facilities
- Include the necessary testing capabilities available at each of its facilities.
“This bill ensures our hospitals are prepared and our nursing workforce is supported in order to respond to emergencies so that a lack of staffed bed capacity doesn’t threaten the state economy,” Gov. Polis wrote to lawmakers. “The Polis-Primavera administration is focused on saving people money on healthcare and improving access to care across the state. Maintaining access to hospital care throughout the state, and especially in small, rural and frontier areas is crucial to furthering this goal.”
However, Polis announced that no fees will be levied against hospitals that fail to comply with the new standards during the first fiscal year beginning July 1.
During a recent press conference, he said, “I understand the impacts fees can have on businesses, especially during times of high inflation, including on hospitals. I therefore ask the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in the implementation of this bill, to direct the State Board of Health to ideally not implement fees, or at least minimize fees to a negligible amount and avoid fines in particular on small, rural, and frontier hospitals.”
The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Kyle Mullica (D), an emergency room nurse from Federal Heights, and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno (D), from Commerce City.
“Far too many of our healthcare workers are overworked and burnt out from the demands of their jobs,” Moreno said after the bill was signed into law. “By requiring hospitals to establish a plan to meet increased demand for patient care, we can combat those feelings of burnout within our nurses and ensure a high level of patient care that Coloradans deserve.”
Advocates for the bill say it will help protect nurses from unsafe working conditions and give them more of a voice in the industry.
Some of the state’s largest hospitals largely opposed the bill with nearly every Republican lawmaker voting against it. Opponents argue the law will impose heavy fines on rural hospitals, while raising the cost of care for patients.
“I promise this isn’t going to just get absorbed within (hospitals’) budget somehow,” said Sen. Jim Smallwood (R).
“These fines will kill small, rural hospitals. I look at this as another attack on rural Colorado, widening the rural and urban divide. I vote no on this bill,” said Minority Whip Rod Pelton (R), who represents a rural part of the state.