Study: Lower nursing staffing brings poorer outcomes

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A report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality covering various other studies extols the value of nurse staffing levels. While no optimum ratios or levels are specified, authors conclude that clearly more is better – or at least fewer nurses leads to more negative outcomes.

The "Hospital Nurse Staffing and Quality of Care" synthesis gathers information from six notable nurse-staffing studies. It shows less favorable outcomes when there are lower nurse staffing ratios, fewer registered nurses to aides or licensed practical nurses.

"A broad array of research on this topic has found an association between lower nurse staffing levels and higher rates of some adverse patient outcomes," the synthesis states. Among those outcomes are worsened pressure ulcer conditions. Other areas listed as potentially sensitive to nursing care: urinary tract infections, longer hospital stays, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, pneumonia and shock.

"Research that underscores how important nurses are for quality patient care will keep pressure on policymakers to really try to intervene in the trends and make sure that we have an adequate supply of nurses," said Jack Needleman, associate professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health.

The AHRQ's synthesis can be seen at