Understaffing is compromising patient care, new nursing study finds

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One of every three Minnesota residents says the lack of nurses on duty affected the quality of care that they or a loved one received while in the hospital, a new study finds.

The Minnesota Nurses Association announced the research results at a news conference Wednesday, where the organization also said it will lobby for legislation to implement staffing guidelines to raise the quality of care.

“If you walk into our hospitals, you will not be guaranteed a standard level of care,” MNA President Linda Slattengren said. “It’s a gamble for you . . . If we’re not staffed right, we cannot give you adequate care.”

Nurses have long known that understaffing in hospitals and other facilities – aggravated by the chronic shortage of nurses in general – was a serious problem. But even they were shocked by the findings of a survey conducted in September and October by Anderson, Niebuhr & Associates, Inc., at the request of the MNA.

The firm surveyed 400 MNA members and 400 Minnesota residents with findings that were within a 5 percent margin of error when generalized to all MNA members and the entire state population.

Thirty percent of the residents surveyed said they had “experienced a situation where having too few Registered Nurses on duty affected the quality of care received” by themselves or someone they knew.

Half of the respondents said understaffing was reducing or eliminating altogether the amount of communication and emotional support that patients and family members receive from nurses. Forty percent said patients were not being checked as frequently as they should be due to understaffing.

More than a third of respondents also cited delays in treatments and tests and problems win receiving assistance with basic care, such as bathing or using the toilet. One-quarter said medication was not being administered as scheduled due to nurse understaffing.

“MNA’s survey findings underscore a growing crisis in the delivery of care to Minnesota hospital patients,” Slattengren said. “This crisis occurs all too frequently: nurses report to work on every shift not knowing if they will have the nursing resources necessary to meet basic standards of patient care.

“Nurses are no longer willing to accept this. We can and must do better.”

The MNA is working with lawmakers to draft legislation outlining uniform standards of patient care to be introduced in the 2008 legislative session, she said. Existing formulas don’t adequately account for the severity of patients’ conditions or the intensity of individual caseloads for each nurse, she said.

The stress of understaffing is taking a toll on the nursing profession as every day nurses leave for other work.

“Our research shows that four in 10 nurses have considered leaving the bedside because of understaffing,” said Gordon McArthur, a Registered Nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

“With better staffing, we can achieve better retention rates,” he said. “And with better retention rates, we save costs . . . With cost savings, we make health care more affordable. When health care is more affordable, we can make health care available to all our fellow citizens. That is a nurse’s vision of health care reform.”

For more information
Visit the MNA website, www.mnnurses.org

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