A Snapshot of the Staffing Situation in Hospitals


Carrie Mortrud, RN


By Carrie Mortrud, RN

It’s so hard to show anyone what hospital staffing looks like, especially if they’ve never worked in a hospital themselves. At the Minnesota Nurses Association, we’ve been collecting Concern for Safe Staffing (CFSS) forms for quite a while. These are the forms nurses submit to MNA to report that they had too many patients. The form asks what was the result of the lack of staffing. Nurses also describe what happened when they told their managers they needed more staff to keep up with patient care. I decided to assess just a week of those forms and see what kind of a picture they paint about how patients are treated in hospitals.

I chose September 24 through 29 of this year. Just six days of nurses telling us they didn’t have enough staff to give patients the care they deserved. Here’s what I found out:

  • Nurses filled out 75 CFSS forms in just six days.
  • There were 55 instances where patients had their care delayed or got incomplete assessments upon admission to the unit or hospital, due to a lack of time.
  • 23 instances of patients waiting more than an hour for their medication, often this medication being pain medication.

That’s pretty scary. Many forms had more than one of the above consequences. That says dozens of patients in Minnesota had to wait for a nurse to take care of them. They were waiting to go to the bathroom, to be turned, or to get that pill they needed to alleviate their pain. What’s even scarier is how the hospitals responded to these calls for more staffing.

  • 13 times patients left the hospital without being seen
  • 18 times no help came, which means the unit had to be closed
  • One time, just once, did management call in more nurses

This means at least 30 patients didn’t get care on the appropriate unit, or at all. (A hospital unit is a hospital floor where staff have specific training to care for a specific medical or nursing diagnosis or patient population). When hospital administration doesn’t provide enough staff for a unit and it has to be closed, no more patients can be admitted there. It means it’s not safe to accept more patients or the ones already there will suffer from a lack of care.

Finally, in one situation, a manager told the nurse filling out the CFSS form was told, “staffing will be better in November.” I hope you’re not a patient at that hospital in October.

Bio: I was a bedside nurse for almost 10 years. I loved direct patient care, but the one day, while working in Intensive Care I was told to put one of my open heart patients in the hallway so I could take another, I decided that was it. I left the hospital world because I couldn’t allow patients to get anything less than quality care just because of staffing. I work on staffing issues for the Minnesota Nurses Association, and I hope, some day, we never have to worry about patients being at risk.

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