The Front Line of Care

Patient & Family’s new report, All Hands on Deck: The Need for Patients in New York and Their Loved Ones to Know More About Nursing Care Staff Levels in Hospitals, reveals how short-staffing in hospitals puts patients at risk and also how patients are kept in the dark about the safety of hospital nursing staff levels.

The report outlines the real risks that patients face as hospitals cut nurse staffing levels to “economize.” It finds that understaffing puts patients at risk of infection, inadequately treated pain, and even death. Patients with respiratory conditions, weak immune systems and heart conditions are at particular risk from short-staffing, according to the report.

The report further reveals that patients cannot find out from any readily available source the real numbers behind hospital nursing staff levels – including how sparsely staffed a unit is allowed to become at any point.

Recent changes in reimbursement systems are designed to reward better hospital care. Having effective nursing staff levels can now benefit a hospital’s bottom line not only through fewer claims for Worker Compensation or patient harm and reduced staff turnover cost but also through reduction of hospital-acquired infections and other “never” events for which Medicare and Medicaid now refuse payment, as well as “preventable patient readmissions” which can now be penalized.

The state statute requiring hospitals to respond to public requests for information on staffing does not provide patients with timely, user friendly or comparable data on staffing. Most importantly, and does not require hospitals to reveal their minimum staffing levels. It does not answer the question, “How low will they go?”

As initial steps to improve patient care and save lives, Patient & Family calls for hospitals to disclose and post on their websites both planned and actual nurse staffing ratios, including minimum staffing levels tolerated. We encourage patients and their families to ask questions about nurse staffing levels in each hospital unit in which the patient is placed.  We also urge increased community vigilance about hospital staffing.

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