Smiley & Smiley, LLP

Nurse understaffing is a critical patient safety issue

We frequently write about how critical it is that physicians must exercise a proper standard of care in regards to their patients. If physicians fail to diagnose patients properly, fail to order necessary tests and treatments or fail their patients in a host of other ways, patients can suffer devastating and even deadly consequences. However, physicians are not the only healthcare providers bound by a certain standard of care.

Nurses provide critical patient care. If they are not given adequate time and resources to deliver that care, patients can suffer consequences that are just as severe as if physicians had engaged in medical malpractice and caused serious harm as a result. Unfortunately, budget cuts and skewed healthcare priorities on the part of hospital administrators have led to critical understaffing among the nursing populations at many hospitals and nursing care facilities. Patients are paying the price that understaffing costs.

When nurses are charged with too many patients or are fatigued from working too many long shifts, medication errors, patient transportation injuries and neglect too often occur. A 2002 study out of the University of Pennsylvania indicates that approximately 20,000 hospitalized patients die annually because the facilities caring for them have overworked their nursing staff. Nurse understaffing also dramatically impacts fall rates and rates of hospital-acquired infections.

Before you or a loved one checks into a hospital, spend time doing research on the facility’s nurse-to-patient ratio. Patients who have been harmed by overworked nurses may be able to obtain compensation via a personal injury claim. However, prevention of such harm should always be a patient’s primary goal.

Source: New York Times, “When No One Is on Call,” Theresa Brown, Aug. 17, 2013

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