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Nurse-to-patient ratios affects mortality rates, study says

Patients in New Mexico hospitals and hospitals throughout the country may be safer if the nurse in charge of their care has fewer patients to care for. According to a study published in BMJ Open, the staffing levels for nurses should be no more than four patients per nurse during the day and 10 patients at night.

Nurses who have too many patients are usually given other staff to assist them such as certified nursing assistants. However, the study found that the presence of CNAs or other staff made little difference to the patient mortality numbers. The education of those caring for the patients was the most significant factor. Techs and CNAs can do basic things for patients such as taking blood pressure but must defer to nurses for anything more.

There are no mandated staffing levels in U.S. hospitals nor are there in other countries, such as England, where discussions of such mandates are ongoing. Fatigue is considered a significant factor in hospital errors, and although researchers say their study alone is not sufficient to suggest widespread changes, it should serve as a caution to hospitals who try to justify overburdening their RNs by adding on support staff.

Many people may be wary of problems that can arise during a hospital stay such as hospital-acquired infections. Mistakes that might happen as a result of an overworked staff include medication errors and failure to recognize and treat complications. If patients receive the wrong medication or have complications from surgery that go untreated, it could significantly affect their recovery. In such an event, it may be advisable to obtain the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney in seeking compensation from the facility.

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