Healthcare Staffing Shortage Is a Patient Safety Issue

The pandemic has caused quite a few shortages lately. Food shortages, gas shortages, and supply chain issues are all over the news. The most glaring shortage, however, is the staffing shortage. And in the healthcare field, those staffing shortages can have deadly consequences for patients. The healthcare staffing shortage not only leads to greater burnout for healthcare workers, but it also diminishes patient safety and outcomes. 

healthcare staffing shortage

Why is there a staffing shortage? 

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that there are fewer nurses available to work in hospitals. For one, nurses have been on the frontline of the pandemic, and tragically many of them passed away due to COVID. While retirements have impacted the shortage more than deaths, the WHO estimates that 115,000 healthcare workers have died of COVID complications.

Even in less severe cases of COVID, the quarantine and isolation requirements for exposure or a positive test forces nurses out of work for several days. A COVID outbreak among a unit’s nursing staff can leave a hospital reeling and in need of more staff. The pandemic affects nurse staffing even among those who aren’t infected with COVID. Many nurses report severe, overwhelming burnout that has led to high turnover rates. 

There are also non-COVID related reasons for the staffing shortage. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, many of the most experienced nurses are retiring to enjoy their golden years. The large Baby Boomer population also represents a huge number of patients who require more healthcare as they age. With the growing number of patients, staffing levels that once would have been fine are now considered suboptimal. 


Nurses and Patient Outcomes 

With nursing staff stretched thin, patient safety can easily slip to the wayside. Ninety percent of nurses report that they don’t have time to deliver the comfort, care, and emotional support that they would like to give their patients due to their increased workload. Recently in Pennsylvania, nurses pushed for a law setting minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, citing concerns that staffing shortages have left them unable to provide the recommended level of patient care. Research shows that nursing staff ratios have been directly tied to patient survival rates. 

On top of diminished care levels, nurses warn that less staff leads to safety workarounds. With double the work and the same amount of time, nurses are forced to cut corners – often skipping patient safety measures like “time outs.” These safety barriers and standards are there to protect patients, and when nurses aren’t given enough time to carry them out, patients pay the price. Suboptimal nurse staffing has been linked to patient falls, urinary tract infections, higher mortality rates, and more frequent readmissions. 

Of course, doubling a nurse’s workload is likely to result in burnout. Burnout is a condition described by nurses as total emotional and physical exhaustion that often is met with little support from hospital leadership. According to the British Medical Journal, burnt out nurses are more likely to have cognitive failures and pay less attention to detail, which opens the door for near misses and never events to occur. 


Staffing Shortage Solutions 

While we can’t solve the staffing shortage overnight, there are a few steps hospitals can take to increase staff morale and protect patient safety. It’s easy to say “just hire more staff,” but for most hospitals, the training costs alone are preventative. 

Instead, hospitals should look internally to solve staffing issues. For starters, hospitals must address the issue of burnout on a systemic and individual level. From providing higher pay and adequate breaks to improving workflow and cutting out busywork, hospital leadership must pave the way for lower burnout and therefore lower staff turnover. These structural changes will not only keep your current staff around, but will also serve as incentives for potential new hires. 

In the meantime, patient safety needs to be refocused using every resource available. As nurses continue to grind through the pandemic and staffing shortage, technology can ease the important task of complying with patient safety standards. Jackson Medical is dedicated to creating a safer environment for patients through engineered medical devices. In the surgical suite, our intuitive GloShield provides an extra layer of protection from preventable surgical fires. The easy-to-use fiber optic light cable cover makes it simple to improve patient safety for added peace of mind.

Is your hospital battling nurse staffing shortage but still pushing for patient safety? Request free, sterile samples of GloShield. 

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