How Hospitals Cope with Being Understaffed
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one out of five nurses will hand in their resignation one year after getting their license, and research has found that 36% of nurses are unable to care for their patients effectively because of their increasing workloads. When a hospital is understaffed, recruiting solutions are not enough. Instead, the aim is to find strategies to resolve problems and prevent them from resurfacing. The nursing crisis is not a new phenomenon. Hospitals will continue to struggle with the effects of understaffing if effective prevention strategies are not implemented to eliminate the problem permanently.
The Effects of Understaffing
A nurse’s primary role is to administer care to patients. When nurses have to work in an environment where there are too many patients per nurse, patients have a higher risk of injury, infections, and even death. Nurses must often care for several seriously ill patients at a time and have to choose which patient’s condition is most urgent. This is to the obvious detriment of the patients, but it also takes a mental and physical toll on the nurses.
There is enough evidence to suggest there are more than enough qualified nurses in the United States. The problem is that hospital administrators are unwilling to spend the money required to hire enough staff. However, this approach is counter-productive to saving money. In fact, some reports claim that short-staffing nurses is not cost-effective because it costs more to rectify the problems associated with understaffing over the long term.
A study published in Critical Care Medicine found that in cases where there was not enough nursing staff, more patients died in intensive care than when hospitals were adequately staffed. Another study found that by increasing a nurse’s workload for one patient, the chances of another patient dying in that hospital increased by 7%.
The California Example
California is one of the few states in America that regulates hospital staffing. It is also the only state to put a cap on how many patients a nurse can care for at one time. Research conducted in California hospitals has shown there were fewer postoperative deaths in comparison to hospitals in Nevada and Maryland where such restrictions were not in place. Despite these findings, hospitals across the United States continue to experience understaffing issues. Although it is a difficult situation, there are several ways hospitals cope with the harsh realities of understaffing.
- Keep Upper Management Informed
A lack of communication within the workplace can lead to additional discrepancies when a medical facility is understaffed. It is essential that all levels of management hold regular meetings and be kept informed of staffing numbers. Hiring temporary employees to handle the workload during flu season, for example, can help to alleviate employee stress and improve patient care.
- Do Not Overwork Staff
When there are insufficient nurses to handle the high numbers of patients admitted daily to a hospital, it is difficult to not assign additional work to make up for the shortage. However, if a facility wants to retain its staff, it is important not to overwork them. Nurses leave the healthcare profession because they are overworked and underpaid.
Hospital managers realize they need creative solutions for recruiting and retaining nurses. Some hospitals in the U.S. are offering sign-on bonuses between $1,500 to $5,000. A hospital in Buffalo, New York collaborated with an international corporation to pay prospective nurses to go to nursing school under the condition they work for them after graduation.While this is an interesting concept, it may not make a significant difference over the long term. A bonus check is not important in cases where job satisfaction is low due to poor working conditions. Other hospitals offer incentives such as outfitting nurses, meal plans, and other means of compensation.Offering bonus checks is a traditional solution that may have worked in the past, but it seldom works today. The bottom line is that nurses are unwilling to deal with the stressful conditions that are so prevalent in hospitals across the U.S.
- Open Communication with Staff
When nurses are kept in the dark about the realities of understaffing, it causes tension in the work environment and greater job dissatisfaction.The best way to avoid this is through open communication. Hold meetings about your priorities and goals for the facility and remain open to suggestions from the team.
- Delegating Work to Assistants
Medical assistants are sometimes relegated to the side-lines when there are plenty of tasks that they are licensed to undertake. To make up for staff shortages, one of the strategies hospitals use is to delegate work to unlicensed staff and medical assistants. As long as what they are doing is within the job description, this should not be a problem.
- Choosing Priorities
When hospitals are understaffed, it is impossible to get everything done in a single shift. When nurses prioritize their tasks and cater to the most important things first rather than becoming overwhelmed with the magnitude of work there is to do, the day runs a lot more smoothly.
- Ask for Help
Some days are busier than others, and there will be days when there are more patients, more emergencies, and more paperwork. When nurses feel they cannot keep their heads above water, asking for help is the best option. Coming together as a team of nurses makes for a much more effective work environment.
Unless drastic measures are taken to reform the healthcare industry, hospitals will continue to struggle to recruit nurses. Qualified nurses are leaving hospitals to work in ambulatory surgical canters or care homes to escape the stress of working in understaffed hospitals. Nurses are unwilling to compromise their quality of life for bonuses and other incentives. They are the backbone of the healthcare industry and should be able to find work that is rewarding. If the understaffing situation does not change soon, hospitals across the United States may find themselves in a crisis that is even worse than the current one.