Op-Ed, Nurses Week 2015, Newark Star Ledger
Elfrieda Johnson, RN, St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark and JNESO Board President
If you or a loved one stayed overnight in a hospital last year, you joined 17.5 million others who have utilized inpatient health care services across the country. From the moment you entered the hospital until the moment you left, who answered your questions, delivered your medication and responded to your calls for assistance? It was more than likely a nurse.
Nurses make up the largest group of health care providers in the country. They are on the front lines of health care delivery for an aging and increasingly sicker population. While Americans are living longer, government reports indicate that nearly half of adults over 65 are living with more than one chronic health condition.
Accessing health care is only expected to increase, as more than 7 million of the previously uninsured will now have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act. And nearly 200,000 of those newly insured live in New Jersey. The health care industry is booming, but what about those delivering care?
In hospitals and other health care facilities in New Jersey and across the country, nurses are facing massive reductions in staffing budgets, forcing them to work with fewer resources as they care for sicker patients.
It’s a safety problem for nurses and patients alike.
The understaffing of nurses leads to nurse burnout, exacerbating a well-documented and growing nursing shortage. It also puts patients at risk of infections, bedsores, pneumonia, MRSA, cardiac arrest and accidental death. Studies have shown that increasing the number of patients under a single RN’s care beyond four increases the risk of death by 7 percent for all patients. That’s a scary statistic for anyone who has ever found themselves or a loved one in a hospital setting or long-term care facility.
Inadequate staffing is arguably one of health care’s biggest problems, and we as a state have yet to address it.
New Jersey does have a staffing disclosure law. Hospitals are required to report the nurse-to-patient staffing ratios to the Department of Health, and that information is publicly available on the department’s website.
Additionally, hospitals are required to post daily staffing ratios in the patient care area of each unit in their facility. But that’s simply not enough. It is time to implement a uniform, research-based mandate across all of New Jersey’s hospitals.
Last year alone, JNESO, a union that represents about 5,000 RNs, LPNs and other health care workers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, received nearly 500 “short staffing” notices from its members, reporting an instance where they were understaffed and concerned for patient safety. And a 2010 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that if New Jersey implemented a safe staffing law, hospitals would see 14 percent fewer surgical deaths.
These are powerful numbers.
JNESO has long advocated for a safe staffing mandate — a law that would require a nurse-to-patient staffing ratio per unit — uniform across all of New Jersey’s hospitals. The concept has been around for years, and getting it on the priority list of lawmakers remains one of JNESO’s top initiatives.
Join JNESO in working to get safe staffing on the legislative priority list by contacting your legislator and letting them know how important it is to take action on this now. Go to the top of this page and click on “Political Action Network – Take Action Now!”
Inaction on safe staffing is simply inexcusable. For the safety of our loved ones, our nurses and ourselves, we must work to ensure that health care providers are given the resources they need to effectively care for their patients.