Nurse staffing ratios save lives


A new study by prominent nurse researcher Linda Aiken, RN, PhD, has linked minimum nurse-to-patient ratios to lower rates of patient mortality and increased nurse morale.
The study, which was published in Health Sciences Research, compared work conditions and outcomes in California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. California enacted minimum nurse/patient ratios two years ago; Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not have legally mandated staffing ratios.

Aiken found that California nurses have more time at the bedside and are less likely to miss changes in patient condition. California nurses are also less likely to experience burnout. Patients of California nurses fare better as well.  According to the data, New Jersey and Pennsylvania hospitals would have 14 and 11 percent fewer deaths, respectively, if they matched California’s 1:5 staffing ratio in surgical units.

The California Nurses Association welcomed the study as proof that minimum nurse/patient ratios improve care. “This research documents what California RNs have long known — safe staffing saves lives,” said Malinda Markowitz, RN, co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

But the California Hospital Association minimized the positive impact of nurse/patient ratios. “California hospitals have been engaged in a host of quality of care initiative for the past several years…To assert that mandatory staffing ratios are the reason for improved patient outcomes…draws a false conclusion,” said Jan Emerson, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association.

What do you think? Do minimum ratios improve patient care?

Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN
Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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