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How COVID Highlighted the Dangers of Hospital Understaffing

Nurses have worked around the clock at hospitals to provide care for patients suffering from COVID-19. They’re working long hours in heavy personal protective equipment and devote all their attention and time to multiple patients. After going home exhausted, they get up the next day to do it all over again.

However, many nurses are leaving or thinking about leaving the profession. Many chalk this movement up to COVID fatigue. But what’s really driving nurses away is how hospitals are managing them. In a New York Times video, nurses tell their stories about how hospitals aren’t hiring enough of them to take care of patients to their best ability.

Why wouldn’t a hospital want to hire as many health care providers as possible? It all comes down to profits. By keeping staffing at a minimum, the hospitals are able to increase profit margins. Unfortunately, this leads to a few major problems:

  • Overworked and fatigued staff
  • A high patient to staff ratio
  • Increased risk of patient death due to understaffing

This problem isn’t new and it’s been happening long before the pandemic. But the constraints and hardships of COVID has put even more pressure on nurses to continue to push themselves in unsustainable working conditions.

While nurses have voiced that they need more staff, they’ve been told “it’s out of the budget,” or that “there aren’t enough nurses.” There are plenty of nurses available to work, but many aren’t willing to subject themselves to these kinds of stressful working conditions. At its core, the main worry is that an overworked nurse assigned to too many patients could make a mistake, which could be disastrous for a patient. Since hospitals continue to perpetuate this practice, they’re placing profits over people.

There is a call for legislature to fix this problem. These laws will limit the number of patients a nurse can take care of, so the nurse can provide their patients with the best care possible. Both Pennsylvania and Illinois have bills regarding this, (Pennsylvania H.B. 106 and Illinois H.B. 2604), but these movements face struggles.

A similar bill was introduced in Massachusetts in 2018, but through the hospital lobby’s $25 million campaign that twisted the intention of the bill, it failed to pass. However, California was able to pass a bill limiting a certain number of patients to a nurse into law, and the results have been promising:

  • More nurses on staff
  • Staff retention
  • Patients had better outcomes

The Patient Safety Act in Pennsylvania and  the Safe Patient Limits Act in Illinois could have similar positive outcomes like the ones in California.

At Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, our attorneys stay up to date with new laws and bills that could pass into law. We’re also paying attention to how hospitals could have made decisions that resulted in patients suffering unnecessary injuries. You or a loved one may have gone to a hospital for treatment but experienced more issues due to the quality of care. We’re here to answer any questions you may have.

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