Staffing study confirms stance of Minnesota Nurses Association

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Research released Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine backs the stance taken by the Minnesota Nurses Association that staffing needs to be improved. The study “gives irrefutable evidence why nurses walked the picket lines for patient safety in the summer of 2010,” the union said. The rigorous study, entitled “Nurse Staffing and Inpatient Hospital Mortality,” was conducted at a premier hospital with elite magnet status and confirms that patients die when there isn’t enough RN staff. What’s even more telling in the project is that even elite hospitals don’t provide adequate staff on average 16 percent of the time, the union said.

“This study seals our case for regulated nurse staffing standards,” said Deb Haugen, RN, Chair of MNA’s Economic and General Welfare Commission. Haugen practices at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where she went on strike last year, and recently returned from Hibbing where nurses held a collective action in support of safe staffing levels.

“Mayo Hospital has Magnet designation and is considered one of the premier health care facilities in the United States and their shifts are short one whole nurse nearly one-fifth of the time,” Haugen said. “It is time to hold the industry accountable.”

Nurses also applaud the emphasis by the study regarding the chaos of patient turnover, which nurses have repeatedly identified. Admissions, discharges and transfers intensify the complexity of an already demanding shift – and patients are put at risk as this activity increases.

The likelihood of death increases 4 percent when turnover is high on a shift, and the study shows 13 percent of patients were exposed to three or more shifts with high turnover. “Hospitals’ pursuit of profits creates this environment of churn that puts unsustainable demands on nursing staff,” said Haugen. “Our hospitals are simply not as safe as they can be.”

Haugen sees this research as more evidence of the need to change fundamental perspectives about delivery of care in acute care hospitals, starting with flawed hospital reimbursement systems.

“Hospitals should be paid for the nursing care the patients need, not based on medical diagnosis,” said Haugen. With that funding incentive, however, comes responsibility to staff shifts appropriately. “We need regulations to make sure hospitals do what they promise,” added Haugen.

Formed in 1905, the Minnesota Nurses Association represents more than 20,000 nurses in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.