Healthcare News & Insights

Proof: Short staffing leads to deaths

Lower staffing levels can contribute directly to patient mortality, according to new research.

The report, appearing in the current edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that mismanaging staffing levels of nurses — on a shift-by-shift basis — negatively impacted patients’ mortality rates.

According to the researchers, when a hospital had nursing shifts that were understaffed by a significant amount (falling 8 or more hours under target levels), patients’ risk of  mortality went up 2%. The average patient in the study encountered three such shifts per stay, raising the individual’s risk 6%.

Under-staffing isn’t the only issue: In units with high patient turnover from transfers, admissions, etc. (and the co-responding increase in work for nursing staff) the mortality risk also increased. Each high-turnover shift a patient experienced in which turnover had a 4% higher risk of mortality. On average, patients in the study experienced one high-turnover shift.

Of course, over-staffing comes with it’s own issues, and isn’t a feasible solution to the problem. The researchers recommend making an ongoing effort to fine-tune staffing levels for each shift to adjust for changes in workload as the number of patients fluctuates and nurses workloads shift.

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