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  • Tim Raderstorf

Public say hospitals should meet minimum safe nurse staffing standards. New study shows why.

Updated: Aug 27

Findings from the Expand Nursing Care Survey commissioned by NursesEverywhere and fielded by the Harris Poll show that 91% of the public agree that hospitals should be required to meet safe minimum nurse staffing standards. A new study “ Chronic Hospital Nurse Understaffing Meets Covid-19” published in the BMJ Quality & Safety by NursesEverywhere member Linda Aiken, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, shows huge variation between hospitals in patient-to-nurse staffing ratios in New York state and Illinois with serious adverse consequences for patients and nurses. The public could bring this new study to the attention of their state elected officials regarding public policies requiring hospitals to meet safe minimum nurse staffing standards.


Multiple studies highlight that proper staffing leads to improved patient outcomes, yet California is the only state to set patient-to-nurse staffing standards. Aiken’s recent study examined how staffing numbers varied across hospitals in Illinois and the State of New York. Coincidentally, the study was planned in advance and just happened to launch in the three months leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak, providing a unique window into the impact of chronic hospital nurse understaffing during a public health crisis.

The study surveyed nurses and patients from 254 hospitals in Illinois and New York from December 2019 through February 2020, looking for associations between nurse staffing and nurse burnout, patient experience and quality of care. The data showed that staffing of medical-surgical units varied widely from 3.3 to 9.7 patients per nurse. Average staffing was worst in New York City, which became the epicenter of Covid-19, with 6.6 patients to every nurse.


Further, over half of the nurses surveyed expressed they were experience high levels of burning just weeks prior to the first wave of COVID-19 hitting the country’s largest city. Studies on burnout paint a clear picture of how patient outcomes are negatively impacted by burnt out clinicians. The full article for Aiken’s study can be accessed at https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/early/2020/08/13/bmjqs-2020-011512

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