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An opinion in the New York Times on June 18, 2010 written by Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse, contributor to The Times’s “Well” blog and the author of “Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything In Between,” states “Cost-cutting at hospitals often means fewer nurses, so the number of patients each nurse must care for increases, leading to countless unnecessary deaths. Unless Congress mandates a federal standard for nurse-patient ratios, those deaths will continue.”
California is one of the few states that have minimum ratio requirements. A recent study led by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Linda Aiken, found that if the ratios of one nurse to five surgery patients, one nurse to four pediatric patients and a one nurse to two patients in intensive care like California has would reduce surgical deaths by 14 percent in New Jersey and 11 percent in Pennsylvania. This study only looked at surgical deaths but it is reasonable to conclude that similar percentages would apply on other hospital floors.
According to Brown “the reason is simple. The fewer patients each nurse oversees, the easier it is to respond when a patient has an emergency, like a sudden, severe decline in oxygen saturation, a precipitous drop or rise in blood pressure or a heart rate that suddenly skyrockets. A nurse juggling the needs of too many patients might not have the time to notice, let alone respond.”
Of course the biggest obstacle is cost. “There’s no denying that hiring more nurses is more expensive in the short term. But having too few nurses leads to burnout, not only because it’s too much work, but because good nurses quit from the stress of knowing they can’t keep their patients safe. Mandated ratios could ultimately save money, because they would reduce both staff turnover and the number of patients who become critically ill due to insufficient care.
And it’s true that, as some argue, the nurse-patient ratio is not the only factor in improving the quality of care. But the data provided by Professor Aiken and others clearly shows that hospitals with the best staffing ratios have the best outcomes overall.”
To read the full article click here.