One of the primary functions of a hospital is to provide adequate nursing staffing to monitor and treat patients. Both for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals have long attempted to cut costs by understaffing and, thereby overworking, their nursing staff. This cost-cutting (and corner-cutting) practice often has dire consequences for patients. A recent study points out one less-than-obvious consequence of understaffing: increased rates of hospital infections.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania compared the number of hospital infections with nurse-to-patient ratios. Their conclusion: patients are more likely to suffer hospital infections if their nurses are overworked. The researchers analyzed data from 7,000 registered nurses in 161 Pennsylvania hospitals. Each nurse was responsible for 5.7 patients on average. For each additional patient assigned to a nurse, there was roughly one additional infection per 1,000 patients. The researchers also found for each 10 per cent increase in nurses who felt overworked, there was one extra catheter-related infection and two extra surgical site infections per thousand patients each year.
Based on the data, the researchers concluded that by improving staffing, Pennsylvania hospitals could prevent an estimated 4,160 infections annually with an associated savings of $41 million. Unfortunately for patients injured by preventable infections, it is next to impossible to prove a medical negligence claim under Ohio law based on nursing understaffing for two reasons. First, State law does not require a specific nurse-to-patient ratio. So, there is no agreed-upon standard of care for safe staffing levels. Second, it would be impossible to prove that understaffing led to a particular infection.
To fix the problem, State law must be enacted requiring hospitals to publicly disclose their infection control data and nursing staffing rates. As long as State law protects hospitals, medical negligence lawyers will be bound and gagged, preventing them from proving that a particular hospital’s rate of infection exceeds safe or acceptable levels. Instead, the only viable claims for hospital negligence arising out of infection-related injuries will be based on a delay in diagnosis and/or delay in treatment of a hospital-acquired infection.