Editorials Weigh Study Finding Nursing Shortages Hurt Patient Care
Newspapers this week are responding to a University of Pennsylvania study that found patients recovering from routine surgery at hospitals with fewer nurses per patient have a greater risk of dying. Researchers found that overall, patient-to-nurse ratios at the hospitals studied differed from 4-1 to 8-1; they estimated that a nationwide ratio of 8-1 compared to a ratio of 4-1 would result in a 31% increase in the mortality rate, or 20,000 additional deaths (California Healthline, 10/23). Summaries of two editorials follow:
Philadelphia Inquirer: There is "no longer a question" that nurse-to-patient ratios are a "life-and-death issue," and the situation should have patients "demanding action," according to a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial. But the answer should not be to "merely ... mint more nurses," the editorial says, adding that the number of nursing students will increase only when pay and working conditions improve. The editorial says that easing the "overload on hospital staffs should be the first step" to addressing the situation. Mandating nurse-to-patient ratios does not necessarily have to be the answer, the editorial states, adding that hospital wards should at least be staffed "adequately." The editorial concludes that more nurses must be recruited and retained "if patients are to be assured that someone will answer their call" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/24).
New York Times: There is "no easy solution" to the nursing shortage, according to a New York Times editorial. One solution -- "simple" compared with other options, including offering signing bonuses, hiring nurses from abroad or "demanding" overtime from current staff -- would be to require hospitals to report their nurse-to-patient ratios "so that prospective patients can decide where to take their chances." The editorial concludes that with nurses "complain[ing] of low pay, heavy workloads, lack of opportunity and a demeaning relationship" with doctors, "if the medical establishment can't find some way to make the profession more attractive, the [nurse] exodus may turn into a stampede" (New York Times, 10/25).
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