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Fighting For Better Patient Care

The restructuring of managed care in California has had a devastating impact on nurses who advocate for patients' rights, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

Progress was finally made when a 'whistle-blower' bill was passed in August. Nurses applauded it, saying their concerns were finally heard.

Hospitals contend the law will only create more lawsuits and increase the cost of health care.

"It will take time and expense and resources that could be used for other purposes," says Dorel Harms of the California Healthcare Association.

Five years ago Pamela Douglas, a labor and delivery nurse, took a big risk and complained about medical practices that she believed were dangerous. Douglas says hospital officials pressured her to keep quiet and when she didn't, they fired her.

The hospital, which disputes her claims about patient care, says she resigned. Douglas maintains she spoke out in an attempt to preserve the safety of her patients.

"I knew that nobody else would dare stand up and that these patients were all alone. There was just no way that I could look the other way and not do anything," she says.

"Nurses need to know that they are safe. They need to know that if they do come forward, they'll be protected," she continued.

In an attempt to gain that protection, Douglas testified before the California legislature last march to support the whistle-blower law for health care workers.

"They told anybody that even spoke with me that they would be terminated." she said. "I feel that the people who did not come forward failed their patients. We have an obligation to be a patient advocate and we need protection to do that."

California has the highest concentration of HMO's and the lowest ratio of registered nurses to hospital patients. Nurses won another victory when the Governor signed a landmark bill for hospitals to maintain minimum staffing levels at all times.

This legislation will provide protection for nurses who are worried they could be blamed if something goes wrong.

Pam Douglas continues to work and she remains confident that when the bill goes into effect next year, she and her colleagues will feel free to speak out.

Despite her ordeal five years ago, she says she would do it all again in a heartbeat.

"I can sleep at night knowing what I've done. I know that I've done what I can do for my patients," she said.