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Most people, whether they realize it or not, have experienced symptoms of burnout at some point in their career, feeling overworked and lacking the necessary energy to do their job well. One profession in particular that sees incredibly high levels of burnout is nursing.
While this is not altogether surprising given the long hours, large number of patients and stressful conditions that the average registered nurse (especially those who work in hospital settings) must deal with on a daily basis, it is still rather disconcerting.
That’s because nurse burnout — whether fostered by poor staff management, critical personnel shortages or the failure to create a supportive work environment — has been shown to compromise patient safety to an alarming degree.
Consider a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, which determined that if hospitals took the necessary steps to reduce nursing burnout from 30 percent to 10 percent, they could prevent over 4,000 hospital-acquired infections per year.
Lawmakers have addressed the problem of nurse burnout and patient safety with legislation mandating RN-to-patient ratios in hospital settings. In fact, such legislation is already in effect in the state of California and has enjoyed considerable success.
Closer to home, Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Kingston) recently sponsored House Bill 923, which would establish minimum RN-to-patient ratios in hospital units throughout Pennsylvania. For example, the measure calls for a minimum 1:2 RN-to-patient ratio in neonatal intensive care units and a minimum 1:4 RN-to-patient ratio in pre-surgical units.
While some may question the need for such legislation, consider another study performed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. Here, they determined that if Pennsylvania and New Jersey adopted legislation calling for RN-to-patient ratios much like California already had, it would have reduced patient deaths by 11 percent and 14 percent respectively.
It will be interesting to see if hospitals come out in support of the legislation or whether they are willing to continue jeopardizing patient safety in order to save money.
Please visit our website to learn more about your options if you or a family member was harmed by an avoidable nursing error.
Sources: The Scranton Times Tribune, “More nurses, safer patients; bill would mandate ratios,” Scott Cooper, March 24, 2013; Pennsylvania General Assembly, “Memo: Setting minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals,” Phyllis Mundy, Jan. 7, 2013