The media often focuses on doctors when it comes to issues involving healthcare. However, nurses are usually the first responders when patients check in a hospital.
The patients-to-nurse ratio is a major factor in determining quality of care. While there are no federal standards which mandate minimum staffing, medical facilities and clinics continue to hire nurses at a fast rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for nurses over the next decade stands at 19 percent annual growth, which is faster than other professions.
Some states have a minimum ratio requirement such as regulation-heavy California. After a 10-year advocacy by the California Nurses Association, the lobby won a state mandate which requires a 5:1 patients-to-nurse ratio for all patients coming out of surgery. The Golden State also mandates a 4:1 ratio in children’s hospitals; in intensive care, the requirement is 2:1.
The more nurses available per patient, the higher quality care a patient can receive. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, New Jersey hospitals would have 14 percent fewer deaths if they matched California’s patients-to-nurse ratios. The study also found that Pennsylvania could lower their death ratio by 11 percent if the state passed statutes similar to California’s.
Such mandates may also protect hospitals from lawsuits that involve understaffing — in addition to political considerations on behalf of a union lobby.
High Quality Care
Fewer patients assigned to a nurse means faster response times, which is critical during an emergency. If a patient undergoes a sudden decline in blood pressure or oxygen, an overwhelmed staff may not notice the problem until it’s too late.
Aside from better care, a favorable ratio reduces tension in an already stress-filled work environment. With added staff, hospitals can also implement other priorities such as electronic health records (EHR), which is a federal mandate under Obamacare.
In addition to improved ratios, some hospitals incentivize nurses for taking additional training. The extra education and experience enables medical personnel to advance in their careers, or acquire preferred schedules such as daytime shifts.