Nursing Safety: Adequate Nurse Ratio

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Nursing Safety: Adequate Nurse to Patient Ratio
Jillian Benson
Baker University School of Nursing

One of the primary tenets of medicine is "first, do no harm". Patients put their trust in doctors and nurses when they are most vulnerable and are in need of care. Yet, what does a patient initially experience at the beginning of a hospital stay? Nurses who appear to be responsible for caring for large numbers of patients and a scarcity of doctors. Patients quickly realize that nurses are responsible for implementing doctors' orders, attending to their daily needs, and reporting essential information about their ongoing health status. Given the importance of these tasks, what is the current state of the nursing profession?
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According to Robert Kane (As cited in Studies on nurse to patient ratios, 2015), “Every additional patient assigned to an RN is associated with a 7% increase in the risk of hospital-acquired pneumonia, a 53% increase in respiratory failure, and a 17% increase in medical complications.” His findings suggest that increased risk for illness and infection is largely due to the fact that an overworked nurse is not able to attend to her/his patients in a timely manner. For example, a patient may need assistance with simply getting to the bathroom. Kane's studies imply that a nurse's failure to accomplish this task could lead to further issues such as UTI development, incontinence, and possible skin breakdown. In addition, as a patient’s needs go unattended, the patient may feel tempted to try and perform tasks themselves. For example, a patient who struggles with mobility might try to get out of bed without assistance and fall. According to Saleh (2008), “hospitals with more licensed nurses had significantly lower occurrence of patient falls keeping the number of patients constant” (p. 20). In another study of neonatal care, “A retrospective cohort study in a neonatal ICU revealed that the incidence of E cloacae infection in the unit was significantly higher when there was understaffing of nurses” (Carayon & Gurses, 2008, Ch. 30). From these studies, it is easy to see how nurses with limited time and too many patients could now be tasked with a primary diagnosis and equally serious secondary