Mayo Clinic Study Shows Understaffed Hospitals Increase Patient's Risk Of Death

The Mayo Clinic released a study today proposing that understaffed hospitals are a risk to patients health.

The study, published in the March 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, examined over 177,000 nursing shifts in 43 units within a single hospital from 2003 to 2006 and found that a patients risk of death increased by two percent per shift when units were understaffed.

Researchers found that though staffing targets were met or close to being met 84 percent of the time, a patients risk of death increased by 25 percent because they experienced between 10 and 14 understaffed shifts during five days spent in the hospital.

"Hospitals need to know what staffing is needed to care for their patients and then take actions to make sure those staffing levels are achieved," Marcelline Harris, a Mayo Clinic researcher, told the Pioneer Press. "Your risk of mortality increases with increasing number of shifts that are below your (staffing) target."

Units were considered understaffed when registered nurses in the particular unit worked more than eight hours below the target staffing level set by management. Though managers are taking an authoritative role in meeting their targets, 35 percent of patients were in units where staffing targets werent met.

"When patients started to have three or more shifts with below-target staffing, that is when we started to really see this risk increase," Harris said.

Harris added that understaffing, to a certain degree, is expected in hospitals as the number of patients needing care can change unexpectedly and nurses occasionally call in sick.

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