Hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities in New York and around the country are finding it increasingly difficult to hire registered nurses. The shortage of qualified nurses is a nationwide problem, and it is expected to become worse in the coming years as the baby boom generation continues to retire in ever greater numbers. Projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that more than 500,000 new registered nurses will be needed in the United States by 2022.

This may come as troubling news to health care safety advocates as British researchers have found that fewer nurses will generally result in poorer outcomes for patients. The research, which was published by the medical journal BMJ Open on Feb. 9, found that patient mortality was significantly higher when nurses are expected to take care of 10 or more patients. Some have called for laws that would establish minimum staffing levels for medical hospitals and other facilities, but they concede that lawmakers will likely want to see more research before introducing legislation.

The researchers also found that adding less qualified medical staff, such as certified nurse assistants, did little to improve patient outcomes. While this type of staff has some basic medical training and can check a patient's vital signs, they lack the skills and training necessary to make a meaningful difference. Suggestions for easing the nursing shortage include addressing safety issues, reducing fatigue and improving working conditions.

Patients may have civil remedies when they are harmed by hospital errors, but lawsuits filed against defendants with deep pockets are often challenging. When patients suffer unexpected setbacks, attorneys with medical malpractice experience may study the staffing levels and training programs of the hospitals involved, and they could call upon experts in the field to determine whether or not patients received adequate care.


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