AP/Los Angeles Times Examines Effects of U.S. Nursing Shortage, Efforts To Address Issue
The AP/Los Angeles Times on Sunday examined the current nursing shortage, profiling a woman who recently won a $2.7 million malpractice settlement in the first court decision "specifically pinned on inadequate nurse staffing." Becky Hartman won a malpractice settlement from Wesley Hospital in Wichita, Kan., in 2000, after her mother's health deteriorated while she "lay in a hospital room, all but ignored" while suffering from a common type of heart failure, the Times reports. Hartman supports efforts by nurses' unions to require mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, such as those enacted by California in January. According to the American Nurses Association, six states -- Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Virginia -- have staffing regulations but not ratios, and 18 other states introduced staffing bills last year. Various studies have found that a nurse shortage is a factor in about one-quarter of hospital patient injuries or deaths; long hours and fatigue contribute to errors; preventable deaths and patient complication rates were as much as nine times higher in hospitals that depended more on licensed practical nurses and aides than RNs; and patients' risks of dying after surgery rose 7% for each additional patient higher than four per nurse. The current shortage of a "few hundred thousand" registered nurses could reach 750,000 by 2020, "as aging baby boomers need more care and the nursing workforce gets older," the AP/Times reports. Some hospitals, including New Jersey-based Liberty HealthCare System, are relying on private grants to recruit and train foreign-born nurses. Further, Johnson & Johnson has spent more than $25 million since 2002 to sponsor nursing scholarships, training and advertisements. Such efforts appear to be paying off, as applications at nursing schools are "up so much that students are turned away for lack of space or teachers," according to the AP/Times (Johnson, AP/Los Angeles Times, 4/18).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.