Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why we need more nurses

The first time I heard a nurse speak about the need for the Patient Safety Act, she said that when she went home at night, she worried about mistakes she might have made, what she might have forgotten to write down in a chart, what she might have left undone, because there were too many patients and not enough nurses.

I was shocked by her honesty but not surprised. The previous year my sister had had an emergency splenectomy and then gone two days without seeing a doctor because someone had neglected to put her on the medical rotation list. Later she was accidentally over-medicated.and her breathing was suppressd. She survived both events, minor in the grand scheme of things, but others have not been so fortunate.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not saying that hospital-acquired illnesses, complications and mortality are all attributable to a shortage of nurses. But consider the following

  • One out of ten patients admitted to six Massachusetts hospitals :suffer serious and avoidable medication mistakes, according to a Boston Globe article last week.
  • The higher the patient to nurse ratio, the more likely there will be patient deaths or complications after surgery. Each additional patient per nurse over four is associated with a 7% increase in mortality.
  • Inadequate staffing precipitates one-fourth of all unexpected occurences that lead to patient death, injuries or permanent loss of function.
  • The more nurses, the lower the infection rate in patients. Sources for this information can be found at the Mass Nurses Association.

Nurses become nurses because they want to help people, but they can wind up working in conditions we wouldn't tolerate on the assembly line. Overworked nurses quickly burn out and many leave the profession or cease to work at the bedside.

You'd think that hospital administrators would want to do everything possible to maintain a good workforce and ensure safety for its patients, but no-- they've been vehement in opposing legislation requiring safe staffing ratios, saying hospitals can't afford it. This year, however, H. 2059, the Patient Safety Act, has a good change of passing.

You can send a message to your legislators asking them to support H. 2059 at the Mass Nurses Association website.

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