Death Risk Rises When Nurse Numbers Fall

March 30, 2011 at 12:30 am

Those coming out of nursing programs into the job market (hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc), should be aware of the effects of nursing shortages.

A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota suggests that a patient’s risk of death increases by 2 percent per hospital shift when units are understaffed with registered nurses.  Obviously, keeping patients alive, at least as long as possible while they’re in the hospital, is crucial to a hospital’s standing.  Thus, having a strong and well-staffed nursing unit is key to maintaining a hospital’s overall well being.

Christopher Snowbeck with TwinCities reports that the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds that “nursing levels met or were close to targets in about 84 percent of all shifts. And while researchers said the rate was good news for most patients at the hospital — because overall mortality was lower than expected — it spelled trouble for patients in units considered understaffed.”

In some cases, patients saw their risk of death increase by about 25 percent because they happened to experience between 10 and 14 under-staffed shifts during just five days in the hospital.

Snowbeck lists key findings from the study:

Not enough nurses:

  • Patient death risk increases 2 percent per shift when unit understaffed.
  • Some patients saw 25 percent increase in death risk over five days.
  • Some 35 percent of patients in study experienced three or more understaffed shifts.

High turnover:

  • Patient death risk increases 4 percent per shift with high number admissions, transfers and discharges.
  • Some 13 percent of patients exposed to three or more high-turnover shifts.

What the study from the Mayo Clinic shows is that it is crucial to for a hospital or any healthcare facility to have a well-staffed nursing unit.  New nurses should be aware of the shortages in order to anticipate the work environments they will be entering.  Knowing this kind of information can help nurses to better prepare themselves for their careers.