Nurse-patient staffing ratio study returns insufficient data

A long-awaited study on the nurse-patient ratio needed for effective, safe patient outcomes returned insufficient data, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The Minnesota Nurses Association criticized hospitals for their low participation in the study as it had high hopes that the study would support its call for lower patient-to-nurse ratios, according to the article.

The Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) countered that member hospitals participated to the best of their abilities, but did not have detailed enough data to comply with researchers' requests. The final results do not indicate any cause and effect, or "identify points at which staffing levels become unsafe or begin to have negative effects on outcomes," said State Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger, M.D.

A work group comprising leaders in both the nurse and hospital sectors requested daily, unit-specific counts of patients and nurses in 2013, according to the article. However, Hennepin County Medical Center was the only hospital able to produce the data, as the other hospitals did not have access to detailed information on staffing and patient counts.

MHA spokeswoman Wendy Burt said the lack of data was the result of logistical issues rather than stonewalling by hospitals, and that it proved the difficulty of assessing the effect of ratios.

"Caring for a patient is done by a whole care team, including physicians, including nurses," she said, "but also including other members as needed by the patients' illnesses or conditions--from nursing assistants to respiratory therapists to dietitians."

Minnesota is not the only state where hospital and nurse groups have clashed on the issue of nurse ratios. Last spring, Massachusetts legislation that would lower nurse-to-patient ratios ignited a battle between hospital officials and nurses' unions, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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