Higher nurse-to-patient ratios would reduce patient deaths, study concludes

Patient deaths would decrease noticably if more states adopted California's nurse-to-patient ratios, according to a new study published in Health Services Research

California's 2004 mandate requires one nurse for every five patients in surgical units. If a state such as New Jersey implemented a similar law, the Garden State would experience 14 percent fewer patient deaths. A similar requirement in Pennsylvania would decrease patient deaths by 11 percent, researchers found.

"In these two states alone, 468 lives might have been saved over the two-year period just among general surgery patients if the California nurse staffing levels were adopted," said Linda Aiken, RN, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, the study's lead researcher. "Because all hospitalized patients are likely to benefit from improved nurse staffing, not just general surgery patients, the potential number of lives that could be saved by improving nurse staffing in hospitals nationally is likely to be many thousands a year."

More than 22,000 nurses were surveyed by researchers in 2006, and patient discharge data from California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania was examined for the study, according to the Sacramento Bee. In that year, nurses in California cared for an average of one less patient than nurses in either of the other two surveyed states. 

"From a policy perspective, our findings are revealing," the study concludes. "The California experience may inform other states that are currently debating nurse ration legislation, including Massachusetts and Minnesota, or other strategies for improving nurse staffing, such as mandatory reporting of nurse staffing...and mandating the process by which hospitals determine staffing."

For more information:
- read this Sacramento Bee article
- here's the study
- here's the CNA's statement