Make no mistake about it; a qualified and adequate nursing staff is required by any facility to ensure safe and appropriate patient care. Unfortunately, hospitals in America are facing a historic nurse shortage that is projected to worsen as baby boomers continue to age and require increasing medical care. Even worse, hospitals are not doing anything about this dearth of nurses and the repercussions are being seen by you, the patient.
The numbers are astounding. According to reports by the American Health Care Association and the American Hospital Association, as of July 2007, there were more than 135,000 total registered nurse positions unfilled, translating to a national registered nurse vacancy rate of 8.1 percent. Dr. Peter Buerhaus, in the July/August 2009 issue of Health Affairs, projected this figure to climb to more than 260,000 available nurse jobs by 2025.
Not only are hospitals taking virtually no steps to curtail this crisis, but the government is not alleviating the problem either. Alarmingly, House Bill 4138, The Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2007, is no longer current and must be reintroduced and pass in order to become a federal law. This Bill would have amended the Social Security Act to improve minimum nurse staffing ratios in hospitals participating in Medicare program. An updated version of this legislation, Senate Bill 54 – The Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2009, was introduced in January 2009 and now resides in the Senate’s Committee on Finance. Again, this vitally crucial law was stalled during the latest legislative session.
While the government does not seem to be making the passage of Senate Bill 54 a priority, certain states have taken it upon themselves to pass smaller scale legislation to address some of the issues causing a rise in nursing mistakes.
Unfortunately, these are only small-scale attempts at rectifying a problem that requires sweeping, national reform. Citing numerous studies to support their claim that safe staffing is at the core of patient safety, the American Nurses Association has long been an advocate for nurse staffing reform for more than a decade. Knowing first hand the traumatic effects of inadequate staffing levels on patient care, not to mention the well-being of nurses themselves, it was the ANA that helped introduce and support H.R. 4138.
Without some sort of reform, the effects of a continued nurse shortage will be devastating for a healthcare system that will see a generation age into its twilight, and another generation gain access to healthcare at historic numbers. The ongoing increase in patient visits and hospital stays is already stretching depleted nursing staffs dangerously thin. As nursing staffs become emasculated, safe patient care is in jeopardy.
While the effects of burnout and stress on a nurse’s life can be dangerous and far-reaching, it is the side-effects of fatigue that can cause safety issues for patients. Not only are hospital nursing staffs’ understaffed; the nurses that are there are often dangerously overworked and tired. It only takes one exhausted nurse or one less nurse to cause serious health risks to those patients in need. When you have an entire country full of weary nurses and understaffed healthcare facilities – the results can be catastrophic. How many preventable injuries, needless medication errors, and deaths can be attributed to these failures? It is frightening what the statistics show!
Hospital administrations must do a more diligent job when assigning nurse staffing levels for their facilities and departments. By not properly monitoring nurse workloads and staffing needs, hospitals are placing patient safety at a huge risk.
But hospitals are not alone – the federal government must also shoulder some of the blame. The failed bill, H.R. 4138, would have required safe, baseline nursing staff numbers for healthcare facilities on a national level. Although there have been similar laws addressing a portion of these concerns passed at the state level in Illinois, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York: federal law is paramount to national patient safety.
With instances of medical error and negligence continuing to rise in the United States, patients must be aware of the demands and limitations of those nurses providing their healthcare. As always, patients are encouraged to be proactive in their medical care and treatment. If a patient believes that their nursing staff is fatigued, short staffed, or incapable of providing safe and reliable care, they must be their own patient advocate. Patients must always ask questions, and demand appropriate answers.
If you or a loved one has experienced nursing mistakes due to an understaffed medical facility or an overworked medical staff, Rasansky Law Firm is here to help. The Dallas nursing malpractice lawyers at Rasansky Law Firm understand how to properly deal with your unfortunate situation. Contact us today to discuss your situation and your legal options. All case reviews are free and you never pay a dime unless we secure a settlement or verdict on your behalf.