Staffing – The Hidden Problem That May Be Impacting Your Medical Care

Staffing – The Hidden Problem That May Be Impacting Your Medical Care

When you or a loved one faces hospitalization, you rightfully expect the hospital to be adequately staffed. However, in Pennsylvania, as in much of the country, hospitals are experiencing a shortage of medical staff – particularly, nurses.

Recently, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) warned of significant challenges facing Pennsylvania hospitals, notably staffing. Compared to just a few years ago, Pennsylvania hospitals are currently employing about 10,000 fewer healthcare workers with staggering vacancy rates of 45% for nursing support staff, 32% for clinical nurse specialists, and 27% for registered nurses. A recent job search revealed nearly 12,000 advertised nursing job vacancies within 25 miles of Philadelphia and 37,000 vacancies statewide. The shortage of physicians is also impressive with nearly 4,000 vacancies across the state. The staffing picture is even more dire in rural areas of the state where nurses are often carrying twice the patient load than just a few years ago.  

The impact of nursing shortages is concerning and is reflected by a recent survey of registered nurses:

  • 85% believe shortages have increased problems with staff communication
  • 91% agreed that shortages have decreased the time they have to care for patients
  • 78% believe shortages have created issues that decreased the quality of patient care

Fewer nurses and medical staff create a high-stress environment where mistakes are more likely to happen. In fact, studies have shown that for every surgical patient added over a threshold of four the risk of patient death increases by 7% while lower patient-to-nurse ratios are associated with more positive outcomes, including significantly lower rates of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.

Stressed nurses may not be able to provide the high level of care and attention patients need, and unhappy nurses dissatisfied with their jobs have no incentive to stay. In 2022 alone, almost 1.7 million people quit their healthcare jobs in the wake of an increased emphasis on profits and the rising demands and stresses on the system created by the recent pandemic.

While some states have limits on nurse-to-patient staffing ratios (often under patient safety acts), to date the Pennsylvania legislature has been unsuccessful in passing such limits, despite support by nurses in the Pennsylvania medical community.

Further complicating the staffing issue is the changing model of hospital healthcare. Non-profit and for-profit hospitals alike have increasingly sought efficiency and money savings out of their operations which can equate to cost-cutting and staffing reductions.

The good news is that the medical community is speaking out. Over the past several years nurses in Pennsylvania and across the nation have publicized the need for increased staffing to adequately care for their patients. However, this is a problem that, after being years in the making, will not go away quickly.

As a patient, becoming informed is a good first step when contemplating a hospital stay. Ask questions about staffing and patient care. Research what data and information you can about your hospital. If you suspect potential patient care issues during your stay, be sure to calmly voice your concerns and document any response you receive. If you do believe you or a loved one has suffered due to inadequate care, including insufficient staffing, we may be able to help. Contact us.

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About The Author

Attorney Thomas is a born advocate and represents individuals in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. She combines an extensive background in civil litigation with expert negotiation skills strengthened by her experience working both sides of the courtroom. Consistently recognized as a top lawyer by state and national organizations, Attorney Thomas is admitted to practice law in Massachusetts and New Hampshire as well as the state and federal courts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.