By John Armelagos
As a registered nurse, my top priority is keeping patients safe.
So I was pleased to see MLive’s series “Invisible Threats, Invisible Victims” shed more light on the deadly problem of hospital-acquired infections.
It’s important that the public also understand this piece of the puzzle: The number of patients your nurse is taking care of has a direct link to your chance of developing an infection.
Not all infections are preventable. To the degree that they are, though, hospitals have an obligation to do everything they can to prevent them. One vital step they can take is to follow the medically recommended ratios of nurse-to-patients. On a post-surgical unit, for example, no more than four patients should be assigned to one nurse.
When your nurse is stretched too thin, no matter how hard we work, something has to give.
Nurses have to decide, which patient gets my time and attention? Who will have to wait to get their antibiotics? Or their wound cleaned? Or their breathing checked?
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All of these nursing interventions are critical to preventing infections.
Multiple studies establish the harm that can come to patients when hospitals fail to put enough nurses on duty. The American Public Health Association, for example, found that patients in hospitals with higher staffing levels were 68 percent less likely to acquire an infection.
The problem is that there is no law that requires hospitals to have a minimum number of nurses working at any given time. The result is that many hospitals try to get by with as few nurses as possible. “Just do your best,” nurses are often told when they raise concerns about being able to safely care for too many patients.
Nurses will keep speaking up and advocating for our patients. But only the hospitals can ensure adequate staffing. And relying on them to do it voluntarily hasn’t worked.
The solution is the Michigan Safe Patient Care Act (House Bill 4311 and Senate Bill 228). This legislation would guarantee safe nurse-to-patient ratios on every unit, in every hospital, on every shift.
Unfortunately, this patient protection legislation hasn’t gotten traction in the Legislature.
The hospital industry opposes it, and, as MLive reported, “the MHA (Michigan Health and Hospital Association) and seven major hospital systems collectively spent more than $1 million to influence lawmakers last year, not counting campaign contributions or payments to other lobbying firms.”
It’s disturbing that hospitals are spending so much money on lobbying, not to mention the millions that many hospital CEOs make.
The hospital industry makes billions of dollars off of patients and it is doing very well financially.
They can afford to provide enough nurses for every patient, and they owe it to patients to do so.
Nurses believe patients, not profits, should come first.
Michigan’s leaders should pass the Safe Patient Care Act and ensure the proper nurse staffing that is essential to keeping patients safe from infections and other hospital hazards.
John Armelagos, RN, is a registered nurse at University of Michigan Health System and president of the Michigan Nurses Association.