Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital’s nursing shortage turns deadly

Under-staffing isn’t just a management problem and a hassle for nurses. A new report shows it can have deadly results.

Chronic under-staffing contributed to two patient deaths at one hospital according to a new report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The hospital, Carlisle Regional Medical Center, had chronic problems with dangerously understaffed units according to the report. Investigators said that from June 27 to July 23, there were 233 unfilled nursing shifts in the emergency department alone and that the inadequate staffing played a part in two patient deaths.

In one case, a patient was sent for a scan without an accompanying nurse because the four nurses on duty had their hands full with a packed ER and waiting room. The patient stopped breathing during the procedure and was sent back to the ER and eventually died.

In another case, a cardiologist recommended a patient be transferred to another hospital for valve replacement. The patient wasn’t transferred and died in the ER seven hours later.

Those weren’t just cases of bad timing. The state investigation shows that the having too few staff on site was standard operating procedure at Carlisle. Among the other allegations in the report:

  • An emergency department manager was fired after pushing management to address the chronic staff shortage.
  • Nurses who complained about staffing levels were deemed troublesome and not taken seriously.
  • Wait times in the ER could be as long as 18 hours. During the investigation period, ER beds were used as inpatient slots more than 200 times.
  • The patient deaths, which are considered “serious events” which must be reported, were not disclosed to the state’s Patient Safety Authority.
  • The hospital didn’t divert or transfer emergency department patients when it was warranted by wait times.
  • Patients were billed as if they received in-patient service even though they were in the ER.

Carlisle issued a statement saying that it takes the report seriously and is committed to patient care.

No fines or penalties have been levied against the hospital, but it will have to provide a correction plan shortly which will be monitored by the Dept. of Health.

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