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Nurses Know Staff Shortages Endanger Patient Safety, But Intimidation Silences Them

Our Seattle medical malpractice lawyers report on staff shortages in hospitals.

Nurses often staff the frontlines of patient care. They are the first ones called when a patient or family member notices a problem, and they are the first ones who can often identify if a problem exists or if something is about to go wrong.

When nurses are afraid to speak up, patients suffer.

The situation becomes particularly dangerous when nurses are spread too thin to offer proper care, yet are threatened with losing their jobs or other penalties if they try to point out the problem, according to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times.

The New York Times item is the work of author Alexandra Robbins, who interviewed a number of nurses as part of her research for her latest book, entitled The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles With the Heroes of the Hospital. During her interviews, Robbins explains in the column, many nurses reported working in hospitals where they were assigned more patients than they could safely care for, resulting in dangerous conditions for patients and excessive stress levels for nurses.

Adding too many patients to a nurse’s list greatly increases the risk of death, infections, complications, injuries from falls, and the risk of readmission to the hospital, Robbins says. According to one study Robbins cites, when nurses are assigned eight surgical patients each, the number of patient deaths jumps by 31 percent over situations in which nurses are assigned only four patients each.

Meanwhile, the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research notes that if every hospital’s working conditions for nurses were on par with those in the top 25 percent of hospitals – including number of patients assigned to each nurse – more than 40,000 lives could be saved every year, Robbins writes.

Currently, only California has a state law requiring a maximum patient-to-nurse ratio in hospital settings, although legislators in other states have introduced similar bills, according to a Fierce Healthcare report. In one situation described to Robbins in an interview, a nurse was assigned 20 patients with non-life-threatening conditions; the maximum safe number was considered to be only four patients per nurse.

At Morrow Kidman Tinker Macey-Cushman, our attorneys are dedicated to helping those who are injured by medical negligence or errors, including those that result from staff shortages at hospitals and other medical facilities. Schedule a free consultation by calling us or contacting us online.