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Nurse Staffing Crisis

This is a decisive moment for our health care system, and the American Nurses Association is leading the conversation to address the nation’s nurse staffing crisis and improve health care for everyone.

As the largest staffing group — at almost 40% of operating costs –— nurses have been an easy target for reduced hours and other cutbacks. But those cuts come at the expense of patient well-being and nurses’ safety.

Nurse staffing levels are critical to optimizing quality of patient care, improving care outcomes, and long-term cost containment. In the face of nurse staffing shortages, an aging population and increased patient complexity, ANA and its members are taking action.

The Clinical Case for Adequate Nurse Staffing Levels

Nurses facilitate the entire health care journey — from hospital admission to discharge. This role gives them unique perspective and power to drive positive patient outcomes.

Appropriate staffing levels have multiple benefits, including:

  • Reduced mortality rates.
  • Reduced length of patient stays.
  • Reducing a number of preventable events, such as falls and infections.

Nurses are at the forefront of our healthcare system. By recognizing the true impact of nursing, we can lead the change that will both address the nurse staffing crisis and improve health care for everyone. The business sense behind optimal nurse staff levels is irrefutable.

While patient safety benefits from this focus, so do nurses. With an improved workload comes the chance for nurses to utilize their full expertise, without the pressure of fatigue. Staffing levels in a value-based health care system should not be fixed because day-to-day hospital requirements are constantly in flux, according to findings in a white paper from health care insight leader Avalere and a panel of top nurse researchers, thought leaders and managers.

The report indicates staff levels should depend on the following factors:

  • Patient complexity, acuity or stability.
  • Number of admissions, discharges and transfers.
  • Professional nurses’ and other staff members’ skill level and expertise.
  • Physical space and layout of the nursing unit.
  • Availability of technical support and other resources.

Empower Nurses to Address the Staffing Crisis

Nurses know the provisions that they and their team need, from patient complexity to layout of the nursing unit. In the face of limited federal intervention, ANA supports a legislative model with nurses sanctioned to create flexible staffing plans for their unit. Staffing levels would improve, and nurses would be able to support each other when most needed.

This is just another instance where health care would be improved by greater nurse involvement. It is crucial for nurses to take on leadership roles, in all settings, to meet the demands of our ever-changing health care system. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Future of Nursing Report details this further, with suggestions on how nurses should be supported to achieve greater responsibility:

  • Nurses should practice to the full extent of their education, training and licensure.
  • Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.
  • Nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.
  • Effective workforce planning and policymaking require better data collection and an improved information infrastructure.

The Future of Nursing Requires Action

Staffing solutions must evolve to cope with the full weight of the health care system, and flexible staffing plans are a huge factor in successfully accomplishing this goal. Organizations must be held accountable for their operations, and public reporting is critical in ensuring this transparency. Every nurse can make a difference.

You can take action by writing to your members of Congress and urging them to support Safe Staffing or by sharing your stories of nursing on the frontline.

Nurse Staffing Task Force Meetings

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