Do hospital staffing levels affect the quality of patient

Do hospital staffing levels affect the quality of patient care?

As states continue to decide how to implement the regulations provided for in the Affordable Care Act, Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal has already stated he will not apply the Medicaid expansion in the state. The head of Louisiana State University's hospital system has expressed concern about the impact that decision would have on the hospitals under his purview.

According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, approximately 366,000 people in Louisiana could gain Medicaid coverage by 2019 under the expansion. Under the program, which will take effect in 2014, the cost for the newly insured will be covered by the federal government for three years, after which time it will cover 90 percent of the cost.

The LSU hospital system has already seen large cutbacks, as 19 percent of the $802 million budget was cut in October 2012. The budget reduction led to the loss of approximately 1,500 jobs. Typically when a hospital is required to cut positions there is a concern about the corresponding effect on patient care — and this occasion is no exception. While the effects of these cuts have yet to be examined, studies in the past have shown an increase in medical errors as hospital staffing levels are reduced.

Patient care affected at understaffed hospitals

According to a study conducted by The Leapfrog Group, approximately 180,000 people in the United States die due to hospital errors annually. Studies have found that when patient to staff ratios are not at optimal levels, a variety of negative consequences can occur.

A large study, involving 5 million records of medical patients and 1.1 surgical patient records, is a prime example. According to the study, hospitals with more registered nurses, or RNs, had fewer incidents of "adverse patient outcomes." Those adverse outcomes included:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Shock
  • Upper gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Longer hospital stays

In addition, hospitals that employed more nurses of any level had between 2 and 25 percent fewer adverse outcomes, varying based on the outcome examined.

Other studies have found that mortality rates are higher when fewer nurses are on staff. One study revealed that for every surgical patient added to a nurse's rotation, each patient had a 7 percent increased risk of dying within the first 30 days after being admitted to the hospital.

When someone is injured due to hospital negligence, potentially caused by poor staffing levels, the responsible parties should be held accountable for the damage caused. If you or a loved one has been injured due to poor medical care, consulting with an experienced Louisiana medical malpractice attorney will ensure just compensation is received.