Responsible Nurse to Patient Ratios Saves Lives

Are patients more at risk in emergency rooms with overstretched nursing staff?

The Huffington Post recently covered a survey by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health that showed inadequacies in nurse availability and response time.

Nurse responses to the study in an informal follow up poll revealed that nurses are feeling overwhelmed on the job and that staff is stretched too thin.

In the past "stretched too thin" meant that there were not enough qualified nurses to fill the nursing job vacancies but what this story shows is that there are definitely qualified nurses to fill the rolls needed, but budgets of for-profit hospitals are kept too tight to allow for a desirable nurse-to-patient ratio.

In California, a law passed in 2004 that requires hospitals to be in compliance with the California Nurse Association's established nurse-to-patient ratio to improve patient safety and quality of care. In 2010 a study was conducted to see if the ratio actually improved health care outcomes and saved lives. The results are quite positive when comparing to hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

From the study:
  • If California’s mandated minimum staffing levels had been implemented in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 468 lives could have been saved.
  • California RNs spend more time with patients. This has decreased errors in recognizing changes in patient conditions which is an issue with New Jersey or Pennsylvania RNs with heavier workloads.
  • In California hospitals with the 1:5 ratio, RNs report fewer complaints from patients and families.
  • California RNs are less likely to report burnout than nurses in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
In an effort to introduce the nurse-to-patient ratio in other states, National Nurses United is working to establish national ratio guidelines. This effort will require a tough marriage between politicians and corporations but with motivated, caring health care professionals behind organizations like CNA and National Nurses United, our health care system and the working environment for nurses can improve.

Read the full report: CNA's 12 Year Campaign for Safe RN Staffing Ratios
More on this topic: Nursing Quality and Patient Recovery