It’s no secret that there is a massive and ongoing staff shortage in the healthcare industry. This shortfall has been spurred on by factors such as an aging population, a rise in chronic diseases, and a lack of properly trained personnel coming out of medical schools.
This has led to the concept of “safe staffing,” which focuses on maintaining an appropriate nurse-to-patient ratio at all times.
The Importance of Safe Staffing
For nurses to fully exhibit their core skills and traits, they need a work environment that doesn’t overburden them with additional responsibilities or excessive hours. The job description of registered nurses is quite extensive and requires them (among other things) to provide emotional support and interpersonal care to patients; this is something they may already struggle to achieve if understaffing prevents them from adequate face time with patients, or even the ability to practice self-care for their own mental health. The situation has led to the development of safe staffing, a concept that has already found traction in some areas of the country.
For example, California’s nurse staffing mandate — which generally averaged at least one less patient per nurse and more in medical and surgical units — has been shown to simultaneously increase the quality of care and significantly reduce mortality rates as well as nurse burnout and job dissatisfaction.
Experiments and trials like these have shown that safe staffing is critically important for several reasons.
There’s no doubt, at this point, that safe staffing saves lives. In fact, it’s been shown that the odds of a patient dying increase by 7% for every additional patient that a nurse is assigned. In addition, a 1:8 nurse-to-patient ratio leads to five more deaths per thousand when compared to a 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratio.
Reduces Poor Medical Outcomes
When a nurse is expected to watch too many patients at a time, it often leads to a plethora of poor medical results that can easily be avoided. As an obvious example, even an increase in the number of fall accidents in hospitals has been directly connected to nurse staffing levels.
Cost-Effective Way to Improve Quality of Care
While reducing the nurse-to-patient ratio from 1:8 to something like 1:4 seems like it would require a dramatic increase in costs, it actually doesn’t. While it does cost more to hire a larger staff of nurses, the costs have been shown to never exceed $449,000 per life saved.
This may sound high, but it’s actually a reasonably cost-effective option when compared to other life-saving interventions that are commonly accepted.
Things You Can Do to Support Safe Staffing
If you’re a nurse that agrees with safe staffing, you don’t have to simply wait around for upper-management to decide to change their mind on the issue. There are many steps that you can personally take today, even as a single employee in a larger organization.
The first thing you can do in the fight for safe staffing is to thoroughly educate yourself on the matter. This can start by researching your own local regulatory board’s stance and laws toward safe staffing.
In addition, you can research and compare your local rules to proposed federal RN-to-patient staffing ratios. This can help you better understand how closely your local region lines up with healthy ratios.
This information isn’t just good to have while you’re on the job, it can also help you formulate safe staffing questions to ask when interviewing for a new position, too. Asking employers about staffing during the hiring process can help you avoid unhealthy situations, and put more pressure on employers to be accountable and prioritize safe staffing ratios.
Anonymously Report Unsafe Staffing
If you find that you’re in a workplace that is failing to observe a safe staffing mindset, you may feel that you want to sit down and discuss the issue with your HR department.
However, if you’re concerned or uncomfortable with an open challenge to your workplace’s staffing code, it’s also possible to report the activity without endangering your position. Simply go to Flo’s Whistle: Pandemic and report your concern once a day in a secure, anonymous format.
Along with anonymously reporting unsafe staffing concerns, it’s also important to know when it’s time to speak out. If you’re aware of improper staffing at an organization, look for ways to challenge the status quo and advocate for change.
This can begin with small encouragements to utilize technology in a more efficient manner or look for ways to apply time management tips to free up staff from unnecessary duties. However, if the issue persists, you may need to take greater action.
Identify Local Representatives
If you find that safe staffing is a concern in your area, you may want to support changing it on a regulatory level. Safe staffing regulations tend to be set on a local level at the present, so begin the process by identifying your local representatives.
Start by using your zip code to find your state representative and then look up your pair of state senators as well. Make sure to find the best ways to get hold of them, too.
Reach Out to Local Representatives
Once you have your representatives’ information, reach out to them in order to bring your concern to their attention. You can send an email, write a letter, or give them a phone call.
However, if you truly want to stir the pot and ensure that safe staffing comes to their attention, it’s best to try to set up an in-person meeting to talk with them. This isn’t always possible, but it’s certainly worth a try, as it’s been shown to be one of the best ways to streamline change at a government level.
While communicating with representatives is a powerful way to advocate for safe staffing, it should never overshadow the most important activity of all: educating others. If nurses and healthcare professionals, as a group, are not aware of the dangers of overburdening healthcare staff, it will make permanent change nearly impossible.
Start with your coworkers and ensure that everyone is well aware of the issue. This doesn’t just mean making sure they know that they’re overworked. Actually use the statistics and information from this article to help show them how safe staffing is a viable solution to the ongoing problem. Show them the effects of the California laws and the fact that safe staffing isn’t an overly-expensive answer.
Once your coworkers are informed, look for ways to spread the word farther. Educate new employees, get in touch with recent graduates from nursing school, and even take the time to explain to patients, friends, and family about the importance of safe staffing. Each person that you inform has the potential to become another advocate as you collectively bring attention to the increasingly-important need for safe staffing regulations across both the country and the world.
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