Hospital deaths, readmissions spike during nursing strikes

Nursing strikes may put patient lives at risk, according to a study that examined the quality of care in New York hospitals during 50 nursing strikes over two decades. In particular, the researchers found that in-hospital deaths rose by 19.4 percent and readmissions by 6.5 percent for patients treated during strikes.

The authors--an MIT professor working with a Carnegie Mellon University student--claim that the study, published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, provides some of the first analytical evidence of the detrimental effect of nursing strikes on patient care. The authors estimate that, out of 38,228 patients admitted during the New York strikes, 138 patients died because of the strikes and 344 more had to return to the hospital after being released.

Lead author and MIT economist Jonathan Gruber told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not surprised by his results. "I've seen how vital nurses are to hospital production," he said. And while nurses currently on strike at Temple University Hospital expressed agreement with Gruber, Sandy Gomberg, a nurse who is interim chief executive officer of the hospital, said Friday that Temple has a plan that ensures "uninterrupted quality care." In a written statement, she said, "All of the activities in the hospital are closely monitored and have given rise to no concerns."

The consequences to patients during nursing strikes were not affected by whether hospitals hired replacement workers, but "nursing-intensive services" were found to be the most severely affected.

Until 1974, Congress prohibited hospital workers from striking, fearing it would disrupt patient care. Fifteen percent of hospital workers now belong to unions, the study noted.

To learn more:
- read the Philadelphia Inquirer article
- download the study