Hospitals, nurses grapple with overtime

State-mandated caps on nursing overtime hours improve patient safety and care quality, concluded a new study, reported Renal Business Today. The regulations prevented fatigue from long shifts and the associated errors that endanger the safety of patients and nurses alike.

In the 16 states regulating overtime as of 2010, newly registered nurses were 59 percent less likely to work mandatory overtime than those in unregulated states and worked an average of 50 fewer minutes per week, according to the RN Work Project study.

The study also found that limiting mandatory overtime enhanced nurse retention, enticing nurses to remain in their jobs and in the profession longer. The researchers suggest other states could see similar benefits with nursing overtime regulations.

Hospitals and nurses in Massachusetts, one of the 34 unregulated states, are arguing over mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, reported 22News.

"I've worked 16 hour shifts," Donna Stern, a Baystate Franklin Medical Center registered nurse, said in the article. "I have been [on] mandatory overtime and every time that that happens, the safety is put to test."

But the hospitals, not wanting to confine nurse care to a "one-size-fits-all" ratio, want a collaboration between hospitals, physicians and nurses to create best practices based on quality, not volume, noted 22News.

Meanwhile, the majority of nurses (78 percent) are spending one quarter of their 12-hour shifts on nonpatient care, such as completing checklists and paperwork, according to a survey conducted by Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare between July and November 2011.

According to the nurse respondents, reduced nurse-to-patient ratios and increased ancillary support staff could help shrink the amount of time they spend on indirect patient care.

To learn more:
- read the Renal Business Today article
- here's the 22News article
- read the Jackson survey summary