Report: Nursing Shortage May Lead To Deaths
Many Leave Nursing Because Of Poor Staffing Conditions, Survey Says
POSTED: 7:19 a.m. EDT June 18, 2003
UPDATED: 4:06 p.m. EDT June 18, 2003
BOSTON -- Nearly 30 percent of the state's nurses report that understaffing has led directly to patient deaths at Massachusetts hospitals, according to survey released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Nursing Association.
The survey, which polled 600 of the state's 92,000 nurses, was presented to the Legislature to bolster the association's request for a law that would require all acute care hospitals to meet minimum nurse-to-patient ratios as a condition of licensure.
"If nothing is done, this situation will only get worse," said Julie Pinkham, executive director of the Massachusetts Nursing Association, which represents 22,000 nurses. "We are pushing the call button and we are waiting for the Legislature to respond."
About two-thirds of the nurses surveyed said that understaffing had led to an increase in medication errors while 64 percent said it had increased the number of complications.
Operating under the slogan "Safe Staffing Saves Lives," more than 500 nurses descended on the Statehouse Wednesday to lobby for the bill, which was the subject of a public hearing before the Health Care Committee.
In addition to establishing ratios for various hospital services, the bill would end the practice of assigning nurses to mandatory overtime or requiring them to serve in departments they may not be familiar with.
The survey, commissioned by the MNA, was conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation Inc., an independent research firm in Cambridge, between May 30 and June 8. According to the firm, it has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. More than two-thirds of the nurses surveyed were not members of the association.
According to the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the state's hospitals have an average 10-percent vacancy rate for registered nurses. The American Nurses Association said the shortage of nurses in the Bay State will reach almost 30,000 by 2020.
The shortage has prompted area colleges in western Massachusetts to expand their nursing programs, in an attempt to attract more nurses to that part of the state.
Springfield Technical Community College plans to double its nursing program to 120 students in two years, and the traditional four-year program at UMass has more than double the applicants for 72 slots.
This year, all 41 members of the class that graduated from the STCC nursing program had a job awaiting them at graduation.
"It's awesome," Michael J. Kent, a STCC student who accepted a job at Baystate Medical Center, told The Republican newspaper of Springfield. "The door's wide open."
And area hospitals are trying to make themselves more attractive to nurses.
In Northampton, Cooley Dickinson Hospital has added a recruiter and specialists to provide training for nurses. It also wines and dines recruits, and may establish a concierge service for hospital staffers.
The approach appears to be working. The hospital has 278 registered nurses, and fewer than 20 vacancies.
The average annual salary is $59,948.
"What we're finding is that nurses at other hospitals, when they come to Cooley Dickinson and they start working here, they tell their friends," Craig N. Melin, president and chief executive officer, told The Republican.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.