Have you ever overheard nurses talking about understaffing and patient ratios? Hospitals are constantly trying to save a dollar by cutting the number of RN’s and other licensed staff to the bare minimum. This is an extremely risky endeavor. The more patients a nurse is responsible for the higher the likelihood of a sentinel event (an unanticipated event causing serious injury or death to a patient that has nothing to do with present illness or reason for hospitalization) occurring. Nurses know when they are being asked to do something that can be potentially harmful to patient care and they do have a right to try to seek assistance in case something happens during the time they feel they are not capable of properly caring for the number or type of patients they are assigned. There are safe harbor laws that can protect a nurse’s license if he/she feels they were asked to take on an unsafe assignment.
Nurses are continually pushed further to take on extra patients. This is usually presented in the way that it would be helping the patient, but in reality it only decreases their chances of a healthy recovery. I myself have been asked to take a third patient many times (I work in ICU where our typical assignment is 2 patients for 1 RN). Managers or the house supervisor do not give us any choice in many cases, they say there is no one else and this patient NEEDS to come to ICU NOW. So what are we to do? We take on these extra patients and care for them to the best of our ability, though in reality they do not get the best care they deserve. If there had been another nurse to take care of them appropriately and devote the time and effort needed to care for them properly maybe they wouldn’t have had to stay longer, or developed pneumonia, or died….
Check out this statement from the National Nurses Organizing Committee and the California Nurses Association Staffing ratios statement.