Gov. Polis signs nurse staffing bill but wants to avoid fining noncompliant hospitals

By: - May 18, 2022 4:24 pm
Jared Polis

Gov. Jared Polis speaks at a news conference April 21, 2022, at the Colorado State Capitol building. State Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Federal Heights, stands to his right. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis signed a controversial bill to require minimum numbers of nursing staff at hospitals, but with a big caveat that suggests the new standards won’t be enforced.

In a signing statement Wednesday, Polis said fees won’t be levied on noncompliant hospitals for at least the first year the new law is in effect.

“I understand the impacts fees can have on businesses, especially during times of high inflation, including on hospitals,” Polis, a Democrat, wrote. “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.”

House Bill 22-1401 was sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Kyle Mullica, an emergency room nurse from Federal Heights, and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City. It passed May 11, the last day of the 2022 legislative session.

The new law requires each hospital in Colorado to establish a committee, composed mostly of clinical nurses, that will set minimum staffing requirements. Each committee must also resolve complaints and receive feedback from nurses involved in directly caring for patients, as well as other hospital staff.

By Sept. 1, each hospital must report the baseline number of beds it’s able to properly staff and its current bed capacity. If a hospital’s capacity falls below 80% of the baseline, the hospital must notify the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and submit a plan for getting back up to capacity. HB-1401 gives CDPHE the authority to fine hospitals up to $10,000 per day for failing to meet certain standards related to staffing.

“Far too many of our healthcare workers are overworked and burnt out from the demands of their jobs,” Moreno said in a written statement upon the bill’s signing. “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.”

The law gives the State Board of Health the ultimate authority to shape rules around how and when hospitals incur fines for failing to meet standards. Still, Polis articulated a clear desire for leniency.

“No fees will be levied against hospitals in FY22-23,” Polis wrote in the signing statement, referring to the fiscal year that begins July 1. “The Board of Health has rulemaking authority to implement fees, but it is the Administration’s intent that they be avoided or minimized to the extent required for hospital preparedness and safety, and if they ever occur, should be levied equitably among hospitals.”

While the law also allows the state to fine hospitals for failing to have an adequate supply of vaccines and infectious disease testing, Polis said he doesn’t want that authority exercised, either.

“Hospitals will never be penalized for not providing testing and vaccines in hospitals and hospital-owned primary care sites if those supplies are not available,” he wrote.

Opposition from health care sector

The Colorado Hospital Association, Children’s Hospital Colorado and other health care industry players pushed for significant changes to HB-1401 in the final days of the session.

Republicans overwhelmingly voted against HB-1401, warning the fees would devastate rural hospitals and raise the cost of care for patients.

“I promise this isn’t going to just get absorbed within (hospitals’) budget somehow,” Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Parker Republican, said on the Senate floor.

The Senate passed the bill along party lines on May 11, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. In the House on May 5, three Democrats joined Republicans in opposition: Reps. Dylan Roberts of Avon, Marc Snyder of Colorado Springs and Donald Valdez of La Jara.


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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.