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Save Lives, Save Money

Save Lives, Save Money

On May 6th, we celebrate National Nurses Day. This year, the celebration is particularly special because we now have over four million Americans who have signed up for quality, affordable health care. But we need to do more. The goals of health reform--improving the quality of healthcare while cutting costs--will be best served by focusing on safe staffing levels in hospitals and other care facilities. The truth is that if reform is going to succeed, we need to find a way to address the problem of staffing.

As nurses, we strive to provide the highest quality of care possible, but no amount of determination can win in the face of patient overload. Every patient requires our time and attention, but when a hospital is short on staff, the quality of care suffers. That's why we need state legislation to remedy staffing shortages.

California took the first step in 2004 by implementing safe nurse-to-patient ratios (one nurse/five patients in medical-surgical units). And the state's effort has paid off. In April, a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that safer nurse-to-patient ratios are linked to lower patient mortality. The study found that 486 lives could have been saved in 2006 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania if those states had required the same nurse-to-patient ratios mandated by California law. According to the study, most California nurses believe that the legislation achieved its goals of reducing nursing workloads, improving recruitment and upgrading the quality of care. If we want better outcomes for patients and nurses, we must improve staffing ratios in every state.

The facts are simple: More than 100,000 patients die in hospitals every year as a result of preventable mistakes. Research shows that having the right number of nurses at the bedside would prevent 86 percent of medical mistakes. Appropriate staffing levels help reduce patient readmissions and expensive complications such as pneumonia, bedsores and urinary tract infections. Adequate staffing not only saves lives, it also saves money.

The time has come to set limits to save lives. If hospitals truly want to recognize and reward nurses, they should start by supporting safe nurse-to-patient ratios. Celebrate Nurses Day by asking lawmakers to support nurse staffing legislation.

Candice Owley, RN
President, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals

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