Safe staffing saves lives. So why aren’t lawmakers listening?

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It’s National Nurses Week, but instead of being honored for their service and dedication, many nurses across the country are rallying for safe, quality staffing.

On Saturday, nurses in Philadelphia rallied outside city hall, calling for better nurse staffing in local hospitals. On Tuesday in New York, nurses staged a rally asking lawmakers to pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which would require all acute-care facilities to set and maintain staffing requirements. And in Massachusetts, nurses say chronic understaffing by hospitals is leading serious patient safety risks. These safe-staffing rallies come on the heels of a new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University that says medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States.

In Minnesota, safe staffing by hospitals looks equally grim. In 2015, Minnesota nurses filed more Concern for Safe Staffing forms than any year on record, citing incidents where patient care was compromised or at risk due to short staffing by hospitals.

As health care changes and patients often have more complex issues than in the recent past, nurses are calling on hospitals to quit cutting corners and put patient care first. That’s because numerous studies show that safe nurse staffing improves patient outcomes:

  • The odds of patient death increases by 7 percent for each additional patient the nurse must take on at one time (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002).
  • Hospitals that staff 1:8 nurse-to-patient ratios experience five additional deaths per 1,000 patients than a 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratio (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002).
  • A study of elective cardiac patients documented an association between increased nurse staffing levels and a reduction of cardiac readmissions. Additional benefits of increased staffing included lower in-patient hospital mortality. –Frost, S., & Alexandrou, A. (2013)
  • Studies have shown that increases in RN staffing levels in general hospital units have resulted in a reduction of 5.7% in patient days. The trend toward higher RN staffing levels has been shown to decrease avoidable never events such as inpatient falls and hospital-acquired pressure ulcers. –Staggs, V., & He, J. (2013).
  • A multivariate analysis of nurse staffing and patient outcomes reported that when RN staffing is increased, there were significant improvements in patient mortality following a medical or surgical complication. Additional data showed a decrease in pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, and sepsis. Further data revealed that higher staffing was linked to shorter lengths of stay. –Spetz, J., Harless, D., Herrera, C., & Mark, B. (2013).

The data is extensive and numerous that safe staffing saves lives. This Nurses Week, nurses aren’t asking for flowers or teddy bears. They’re asking for the staffing they need to give all patients the safe, quality care they deserve.


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Unsafe staffing costs a Florida facility $1 billion

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