AP/Kansas City Star Examines Effect of U.S. Nursing Shortage on Patient Care
The AP/Kansas City Star on Monday looked at the national nursing shortage and its impact on patient care. "Study after study" shows that staffing too few nurses can affect patients' health and sometimes cause deaths, the AP/Star reports. HHS estimates today's shortage of "a few hundred thousand" registered nurses could increase to a shortage of 750,000 by 2020, according to the AP/Star. A shortage of nurses is a factor in one-fourth of patient injuries or deaths in hospitals, according to a 2002 report released by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. In addition, researchers at Harvard and Vanderbilt universities found preventable deaths and patient complication were up to nine times higher in hospitals where the most care was given by licensed practical nurses and aides, not RNs. Linda Aiken, director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, found in a 2002 survey of 168 hospitals that the risk of dying after surgery increased 7% for each patient over four patients assigned per nurse. According to the Institute of Medicine, long hours and fatigue contribute to errors, and in late 2003 IOM called for a ban on nurses working more than 12-hour days. In 24 states, at least some form of staffing regulation has been instituted, and California has enacted the nation's first nurse-to-patient ratios. Some hospital officials cite financial pressures including technology costs, government cuts and insurance reimbursements as reasons for not hiring nurses, according to the AP/Star. However, corporate grants, scholarships and pay increases are expected to draw more students to nursing and bring former nurses back to the field (Johnson, AP/Kansas City Star, 3/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.