Understaffing of nurses hurts patient outcomes
As a student in nursing school, I’ve learned that one of the most important goals for a registered nurse, as well as all nursing staff, is to provide efficient care to all patients. Each patient’s caregiving must be individualized to meet the specific needs of that person. This is why nursing staff ratios are such a fiercely debated topic in the health care industry. It is not a question of whether patients are receiving the high-quality care they trust our nurses to provide, but rather of why the voices of nurses are not being heard when they say their patients are not being properly cared for.
One would assume that employees would not openly admit to inadequate performance, but nurses carry the responsibility of being honest and transparent about the job they do.
A nurse is not someone who can go home after a shift and leave all of the things they didn’t get to accomplish for the next person or even the next day. They go home thinking about that patient that could have gone into cardiac arrest because their blood pressure medication was not given to them on time due to the workload that nurse was assigned for that shift. Realistic testimonies are given by men and women in the nursing field every single day. Research done by the BMJ Journal for Nursing Workload, Patient Safety Incidents and Mortality in 2018 provided evidence that medical errors and negligence can be directly associated with overworked nurses. The study showed a correlation between understaffed healthcare environments and a 30-40 percent increase in adverse patient outcomes.
With this kind of information available, it is difficult to understand why this issue isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Although this study was done in Finland, local lawyers have also addressed similar concerns right here in Connecticut, jumping in to suggest that citizens report claims of medical negligence that may be due to overworked nurses. If people do start to report these claims and seek compensation, it might just spark the movement needed to make changes. It would have an adverse effect on the hospital lobbyists that oppose any restrictions or amendments to staffing ratios. The more people that consider suing for negligence due to nurse workload, the better the chances are that lobbyists may reconsider their stances.
Although the study done by the BMJ Journal did not necessarily research nursing staff ratios specifically, it does highlight the importance of how much work a nurse is responsible for. Therefore, it is not entirely far-fetched to assume that a nurse’s performance is hindered by how many patients they are given and the severity of their patients’ medical needs. Take a nursing home for example. In Connecticut, a nurse can be in charge of an entire floor with up to 30 elderly patients. The elderly have the most delicate ailments and having so many patients to look after is a daunting task. Elderly patients have problems with immobility, and they have to be turned in their beds to avoid pressure ulcers. They have to be assisted with traveling to and from different facilities within the nursing homes and even simply to restrooms or with bathing. A nurse in these facilities has maybe two nurses’ aides to whom they can delegate tasks they simply don’t have time for. It is not fair for any patient to be crammed into a schedule and to be denied the special care and attention they are paying for.
Between 2015 and 2018, the Hartford Courant reported that Connecticut had 247 incidents involving elderly patients in nursing homes that resulted in injuries from falls, pressure ulcers, and medication errors. Each of these incidents is highly preventable and associated with the lack of care provided because of insufficient staffing. In 2018, the Department of Public Health, along with the Advanced Center for Nursing and rehabilitation, filed a consent order and mandated nursing homes in New Haven to hire nursing consultants. These nursing consultants were tasked with evaluating the ability of the staff to care for their patients and how that care was being delivered.
In order to enact positive changes in our healthcare system, we have to acknowledge the evidence that continues to be provided. Although Connecticut still rates satisfactory in its staffing of most facilities, any facility that falls short is one too many. This is why a universal policy should be created to hold all institutions at the same standards to provide the highest quality of care.
Jacqueline Rivera is a nursing student at Goodwin College.
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