You may have seen in the news recently that 800 nurses at a western Massachusetts hospital called for a strike. While strikes are nothing new, the idea of healthcare workers choosing not to work in protest can be startling. Unfortunately, the nurses at this Massachusetts hospital are not alone. In the last year, nurses at hospitals in Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania have also voted to strike over what they claim are harmful conditions affecting them and their patients.
Why is this happening? The main reason, cited in every situation, is inadequate staffing levels. In short, the nurses claim there is not enough of them to properly care for all the patients. According to one article on the planned Massachusetts strike, “Nurses say they are seeing an increase in patient falls and preventable bed sores….as well as delays in patients receiving medications and treatments, all due to inadequate staffing.”
There are several reasons identified for the staffing issues including contractual requirements, low wages, and hospital downsizing or intentional understaffing. Hospitals have been under increasing pressure to be lean and cost-effective. As we discussed in an earlier blog, hospitals are being acquired by for-profit entities whose main objective is to increase profits by consolidating and streamlining costs, often to the detriment of patient care. The Financial Times, a British publication, quoted Linda Aiken, a nursing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who said “This is a bad commentary on how US hospitals are trying to manage staffing even in normal circumstances. They’re very much in love with this idea of just-in-time staffing and just-in-time supplies. It’s a manufacturing idea that doesn’t work out in hospitals.”
Whatever the reason for understaffing, it is undeniable that overstretched nursing staff can negatively impact patient outcomes. One study claims that every extra patient on a nurse’s caseload increases mortality risk by 7%. This is unacceptable.
If you believe you or a loved one has suffered serious health consequences due to inadequate nursing care while hospitalized, contact us to discuss your options.