A nurse’s confession about staffing and infection rates

Thinkstock | Fuse

Thinkstock | Fuse

An NBC News article titled “Burned-out nurses linked to more infections in patients,” discussed the link between patient infection rates and their correlation to nursing staff workloads. Essentially, the higher the patient load, the higher the likelihood of infection rates in patients due to the nursing staff “cutting corners.”


There was a similar article on KevinMD in a guest post titled “Patient care suffers when nurses are overloaded with work.” The author, Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway, discussed the importance of the nursing workforce and implored readers to take physician and nurse burnout seriously, because it directly impacts the care of patients. She then listed some steps patients can take to help assess the possibility of patient overload.

I cannot disagree with the good doctor. Patient overload and understaffing places a great toll on each individual nurse, as well as the entire unit. The domino effect is undeniable if you’ve ever witnessed a hospital floor functioning while over capacity and understaffed. Other studies show understaffing can hurt nurses as well as patients.

It’s downright scary sometimes. I’m not just confessing this as a nurse, but also as a patient. Patients aren’t as naïve as you would think. They figure out understaffing and overcapacity fairly quickly.

Are corners cut? While I’m not outing anyone or admitting to anything, the obvious problem is choosing patient safety over proper sterility. Do you compromise patient safety to adhere to contact precautions and basic hand hygiene practices?

Taking the extra 15 to 90 seconds to wash your hands or gown and gloves is plenty of time for something “bad” to happen.

It’s choosing between preventing a deadly action that will immediately harm your patient versus an action that has the “potential” to infect your patient.

In that environment, it’s the immediacy of danger that wins every time.

Is it right? No. Is it wrong? No. But yes, it does exist.

And people wonder why nurses harp about inadequate staffing.

Like a broken record.

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One Response to A nurse’s confession about staffing and infection rates

  1. jparadisirn

    Excellent points, Sean. Even using the foam hand sanitizers takes minutes for the foam to dry, and effectively kill germs. Minutes count in emergencies.
    I’ve read that some hospitals are looking into digital monitoring of hand washing. Nurses would wear “bracelets” that sense when hand washing didn’t occur, emitting reminder alarms. Two questions about this: Is the cost ratio of a system like this as efficient as hiring more nurses? Second, who’s going to insure the bracelets aren’t carrying bacteria from room to room? Just saying.