Nurse-Patient Ratios: A Problem Yesterday and Today

Brooke Calta, junior

Rising acuity of patients and shorter hospitals stays over the past few years can only mean one thing… a growing need for registered nurses. The continually growing shortage plus reductions in hospital nursing budgets means another thing…fewer nurses working longer hours (*nursing students cringe here*).  Because of the shortage, there is a huge concern regarding nurse to patient ratios and the safety risks associated with it. Besides the risks for patient safety, poor ratios can negatively impact the mental and physical well-being of nurses.

ratiosAccording to the American Nurses Association, 50% of nurses report that they aren’t able to spend enough time with patients, and 33% of nurses report that staffing levels are simply inadequate.  This feedback from caregivers themselves is evidence that workloads of nurses are becoming heavier, and burnouts are becoming all too common. Inadequate staffing, and therefore increased stress in employees, has been shown to result in increased medication errors, nosocomial infections, injuries, and even longer hospital stay. So by reducing nursing budgets, hospitals end up paying additional funds for adverse events? Makes sense.

Steps are slowly being taken. In April of 2015, the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act was introduced by 3 members of congress which requires Medicare-participating hospitals to have a committee made up of at least 55% of direct patient care nurses to create staffing plans for each unit. According to the ANA, there is a staggering 20% decrease in hospital deaths when nurses are a part of the staffing committees…wrap your brain around that one.

What can nurses, or any healthcare workers, do to make matters better? Write to your congressional representatives and push for more legislation to improve nurse staffing. Take your personal experiences related to short staffing and share them with the ANA as they take steps towards legislative success. Lastly, encourage friends, family, and co-workers to take action as well. As legislation develops and hospitals step of their staffing game, nurses’ workloads will be lightened, their bodies will be less fatigued, they will stick around longer and likely be more satisfied with their role in helping others. More importantly, patients will be more satisfied with their care, and additional lives will be saved.


Photo from the American Nurses’ Association



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