Wide variation across hospitals in nurse staffing is threat to public’s health

According to a new study published in BMJ Quality & Safety, many hospitals in New York and Illinois were understaffed right before the first surge of critically ill COVID-19patients. The study, “Chronic Hospital Nurse Understaffing Meets COVID-19,” documented staffing ratios that varied from 3 to 10 patients for each nurse on general adult medical and surgical units. ICU nurse staffing was better but also varied significantly across hospitals.

Nurse in full PPE including a face shield.

New York City, an international gateway to the US with three major international airports and the early epicenter of the COVID-19 surge in the US, had the poorest average hospital nurse staffing on the eve of the COVID-19 medical emergency.

Researchers at the Penn found that the workload had adverse consequences on nurses and on patient care. One third of patients in New York state and Illinois hospitals did not give their hospitals excellent ratings and would not definitely recommend their hospital to family and friends needing care.   

“Half of nurses right before the COVID-19 emergency scored in the high burnout range due to high workloads, and one in five nurses said they planned to leave their jobs within a year,” says lead author Karen Lasater, an assistant professor and researcher at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the School of Nursing. “It is an immense credit to nurses that in such an exhausted and depleted state before the pandemic they were able to reach deep within themselves to stay at the hospital bedside very long hours and save lives during the emergency,” Lasater says. 

Read more at Penn Nursing News.