Michigan Nurses Poll Links Patient Deaths to Hospital Understaffing

by Garret Ellison

nurse-to-patient-staffing-ratioLANSING, MI — More than 20 percent of polled Michigan nurses reported knowledge of a patient dying as result of hospital under-staffing, according to a survey by a union pushing legislation to establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

The Michigan Nurses Association says the survey of 401 registered nurses conducted in early March by the Boston-based Anderson Robbins Research firm indicates “alarming rates of preventable harm” in Michigan hospitals linked to nurses being forced to care for too many patients at once.

“The findings are consistent with years of scientific research that show a clear link between RN understaffing and poor patient outcomes,” said nurses association president John Armelagos.

“Hospital safety has become a public health crisis that must be addressed.”

Guest column: Law requiring safe levels of nurse staffing will save lives

According to the survey, 86 percent of surveyed nurses say care is suffering because they are assigned too many patients. Fifty percent said they have an unsafe number of patients on at least half their shifts while, conversely, 49 percent said that never or rarely happens.

Respondents were similarly split on whether management was willing to adjust patient assignment in response to concerns about over-staffing.

Statewide, 22 percent of nurses reported knowing of a patient death linked to staffing levels; 57 percent reported infections or other complications, 49 percent reported injury or harm to a patient and 63 percent reported medication errors resulting from nurses having to care for too many patients at once.

Only 48 respondents were association members.

The association rallied at the state capitol on Wednesday in support of long-stalled legislation that would mandate specific nurse-patient ratios in every public or private hospital based on national professional standards.

The Safe Patient Care Act, (HB 5013 and SB 574), has failed to gain traction in the legislature despite the bills being first introduced in 2013 with bipartisan support. Other elements of the legislation include a limit on mandatory nurse overtime and disclosure of nurse staffing levels.

The legislation has yet to get a hearing in either the Senate Committee on Regulatory Reform or the House Committee on Health Policy. Nonetheless, bill sponsor Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, said he’s encouraged by progress and thinks the effort is better positioned to succeed this session.

Although hospitals would be required to hire more nurses and enact other logistical and managerial changes, “those are concerns that can be met,” Hoadley said. “We know they can because they’ve done it in other states.”

The problem is obvious to anyone who stays in the hospital, he said.

“You see how long nurses are there and how many patients they are taking care of,” he said. “You figure, there’s got to be a better way.”

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association opposes the legislation, saying that nurse training plays a larger role in care quality than nurse-patient ratios and staffing levels should not be mandated in Lansing.

“We think individual hospitals should be able to determine their staffing needs based on the patients they are serving and other factors,” said MHHA spokesperson Laura Wotruba.

In regards to the incidences of harm cited by the survey, Wotruba said, “there probably need to be case-by-case research into why those situations happen.”

“Hospitals are working on that.”

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