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Commentary: RN staffing saves lives

There is an alarming pattern of increased adverse events occurring in hospitals throughout the U.S., which includes medication errors, unnecessary deaths, patient falls, and hospital-acquired infections.

A direct relationship exists between the quality of nursing care and amount of time a Registered Nurse spends with each patient. These events are preventable by simply increasing RN numbers each shift. Nurses are the greatest defense for patient safety, so it is vital that safe RN staffing becomes a priority in hospital policy and budget.

Appropriate staffing saves lives! Decreasing RN numbers, in order to save money, decreases time spent with each patient and leads to more mistakes and lives lost. Inadequate staffing is a central reason for burnout and job dissatisfaction, which leads to inadequate patient care, injuries, infections and sometimes death.To decrease errors and death rates, most RNs prefer facilities to require managers to match RN staffing with patient needs, not numbers of patients. This would insure that patients receive quality care by RNs who can meet individual needs. RNs and Minnesota citizens should meet the political challenge and get involved in the legislative process, then we will see a greater response and action to safe RN staffing and save lives.

Patients deserve quality care, without fear of hospital-acquired infections, unmet needs, or delayed care by overworked RNs. The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) says, "Higher hospital occupancy, lower nurse staffing levels, ... all independently increase risk of dying in the hospital." The MNA also said, when RN staffing is higher, a hospitalized person is 68 percent less likely to acquire a preventable infection.

A Texas study of 1,300 bladder-cancer surgery patients showed increased RN staffing decreased death rates by 50 percent, according to a fact sheet from the MNA. This astounding example shows how assigning more RNs to provide care saves lives. If increasing RN staffing levels can save lives after bladder-cancer surgery, then it is sensible to presume increasing RNs staffing in other areas will also save lives.

The MNA appointed Anderson, Niebuhr & Associates to survey Minnesota citizens and learn what people thought about nurse staffing. They discovered 90 percent believe RN staffing is "insufficient" and "a threat to safe patient care." In addition, 84 percent of experienced nurses, employed for 20+ years, affirm the nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and leads to higher death rates, infections, and other problems.

Make sure to know your representatives and vote for those who care about safe nurse staffing. Give them a call, and tell them you want safe RN staffing now, before you or a loved one suffers or dies at a hospital that does not provide adequate RN staffing. Increasing RN staffing does save lives.

Sandra K. Nye is a Registered Nurse taking courses at Bemidji State University. This is the first in a two-part commentary on safe staffing for a nursing class at BSU.