Politics and Government

Nurses' staffing issue to move as separate bill at Minnesota Capitol

Red signs in the capitol-1
Minnesota Nurses protest at the Minnesota State Capitol on Monday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

In a seeming acknowledgment that they are stuck on language involving nurses' staffing, legislative negotiators have agreed to consider that issue separately from a larger health care funding bill as time runs short in the legislative session.

DFL leaders said they’ve moved the issue to another bill to continue negotiations as they work on the larger health package.

The Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act creates committees inside hospitals, made up of nurses and other staff to determine staffing plans and workload requirements. It also contains other provisions, such as oversight of the staffing plans by the state health department.

The current draft of the nurse staffing bill includes new language that has not been made public, including an exemption for Mayo Clinic and other changes to address concerns. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters Thursday that separating the issue would give it the space it needs to be worked out apart from other parts of the larger budget bill.

“It was really important to set up that separate conference committee because Rep. [Sandra] Feist has been working with all of the interested parties very very hard and she has a revised set of language that really the public needs to see and we need to have testimony on,” Hortman said.

The bill is being championed by the Minnesota Nurses Association, which says it is key to keeping nurses from leaving the profession. 

“With the strong support of Minnesota patients and a bipartisan, pro-nurse majority in the Minnesota legislature, it is time to take bold action to hold hospital executives accountable and give nurses a voice to help improve staffing levels, bring nurses back to the bedside, and protect patient care,” said MNA President Mary Turner in a press release on the news.

But its potential passage has been opposed by hospitals across the state. The Minnesota Hospital Association has argued that the language in the bill puts patient care at risk and would be financially challenging. Mayo Clinic also threatened to pull significant funding out of the state if there wasn’t language added to provide an exception for hospitals like theirs. 

Earlier this week, MPR News obtained a draft plan of the bill that included a carve out only for hospitals that meet certain qualifications, including having 40 percent of patients come from out-of-state and being located outside of the Twin Cities metro area. That language, if included in the final draft, would likely exclude many systems, aside from Mayo, from being able to take advantage of it. 

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz seemed open to the idea of creating a carve-out for Mayo. 

“They are a unique medical institution because of their teaching side of things and their global reach,” he said. “I am open for what I believe is not an ‘us versus them, nurses versus health care’ side of things. But there's a compromise to make it work, I think that's what's happening.”

The larger health package is still being worked on, which includes a public option for MinnesotaCare and language that would add further protections for those seeking abortions in the state.