According to a study detailed in nursingtimes.net, increased workloads in nursing heighten the risk of patient safety incidents and deaths. The study found that the chances of a patient “safety incident” increased by up to 30 percent when the workload of the nurse is excessive. Further, when a nurse’s workload rises above “optimal” levels, the odds of a patient dying increase by almost 40 percent.On the other hand, the study found that when workload decreased, giving the nurses more time to observe and care for their patients, the risk of safety incidents and death was about 25 percent lower. Forshier Law, LLC, is a small firm dedicated to providing practical, professional advice to nurses who are dealing with a complaint at the Board of Nursing Attorney Barbara Forshier is a compassionate advocate for nurses in their time of need.
What Issues Arise as a Result of Increased Workloads in Nursing?
While the United States has experienced nursing shortages from time to time since the early 1900s, the current nursing shortage has outpaced the shortage of 2012—which was greater than any other time in our history. As of 2021, registered nursing was the fifth-most in-demand job in America due to increasing patient demand.
Our nation’s large population of baby boomers continues to grow rapidly, requiring more health services due to age-related conditions. The heightened stress levels of today’s nurses are due to a combination of the pandemic, a shortage of nurses, healthcare facility budget tightening, work overload, and the need to make urgent, life-altering decisions. While nurses are fully aware they are overworked and therefore unable to do the best for their patients, they have little recourse. Studies have shown that when nurses work more than 12 hours a day, the health of patients suffers. This is known as “error-producing fatigue,” because extreme fatigue diminishes attention to detail, decreases energy levels, slows reaction times, and contributes to errors. When coupled with a lack of understanding from management, this fatigue can even lead to anger. Increased workloads in nursing can cause the following:
- High levels of overtime hours correlate with higher rates of patient infections, particularly catheter-related UTIs and skin ulcers.
- Hospital reputations can suffer when negative patient outcomes increase. Understaffed hospitals with overworked nurses appear to have little regard for the well-being of their patients. Increased workloads in nursing can result in judgment mistakes which, in turn, can result in lower standards of patient care, accidents, and medication errors.
- Mortality levels increase when medication errors occur, and medication errors are often a direct result of work overload for nurses.
- When a facility is understaffed, hospitals may be forced to place inexperienced nurses in charge of patients that need critical care. These young, inexperienced nurses do not have adequate supervision, resulting in errors in judgment. Inexperienced nurses must be supervised by senior nurses at all times, yet in understaffed facilities, this is not always possible.
- Overworked nurses in understaffed facilities lead to a high nursing staff turnover.
- When nurses are consistently overworked unintentional negligence toward patients is a side effect and mistakes are much more likely to occur.
- Compliance with rules and regulations tends to decrease in facilities where nurses are consistently overworked.
- When a nurse is handling twice his or her regular responsibilities, the time needed to collaborate with other members of the health team is significantly decreased.
Case Illustration of an Overworked Nurse
According to an article in American Nurse, a 61-year-old woman was admitted to Kansas Medical center with what she thought was a bad cold, then was diagnosed with pneumonia. Following admission, the woman became increasingly short of breath as her fever also increased. The hospital was severely understaffed at the time, leaving the nurse on the case unable to check the woman as often as her condition dictated. Because of this, the deteriorating condition of the patient—including low oxygen levels went unassessed—the woman suffered respiratory arrest.By the time the nurse returned to the woman’s room and resuscitated her, brain damage had resulted from the oxygen deprivation, leaving the patient unable to care for herself, talk, or walk. At the time, there were 42 patients in the unit. The hospital’s staffing standards required 5 RNs and 2 LPNs, yet only 3 registered nurses were on duty. This resulted in one nurse caring for as many as 20 patients at a time. In this particular case, the hospital paid the family of the patient a $2.7 million settlement. The nurse who, through no fault of his or her own, lost a patient, has to live with the traumatic outcome.
How Can You Avoid Risking Your Nursing License Because of Increased Workloads in Nursing?
When medical facilities are understaffed, and nursing staff is stretched thin, unsafe practice workarounds (cutting corners to get work done more quickly) can lead to a decrease in patient safety. Not only does understaffing have detrimental effects on patients, but it also has a negative effect on the safety of the nurses themselves. Safety workarounds, while a necessity for understaffed facilities, can lead to detrimental effects. These detrimental effects risk the nursing licenses of nurses who are simply doing the very best they can, given the circumstances. In short, staffing shortages can result in nurses making mistakes that result in risks to their nursing licenses and their careers. Nurses can clearly tell administrators about the potential harm to patients that understaffing can cause. While nurses may assume administrators are aware of the issues resulting from understaffing, they truly may not realize the full extent of the problem. It would be wise to report the staffing issues up the chain of command in writing every time it happens. Always save a copy of the correspondence for your records. A nurse should always advocate for safe staffing and keep a record of the actions taken.
I Might Lose My Nursing License Because of Increased Workloads—What Can I Do?
If your nursing license is in jeopardy because of an increased workload, you need immediate legal help from someone who truly understands your situation. Attorney Barbara Forshier has compassion for your situation as well as the legal skills necessary to fight for your nursing license. At Forshier Law, we believe your nursing license should not be at risk because the medical facility where you work is understaffed. If your increased workload is responsible for an error you made in patient care, we will zealously defend you.
How Can a Nurse Defense Lawyer from Forshier Law Help?
The Minnesota nurse defense lawyer at Forshier Law, LLC, is ready to speak to you about your nursing license issue. Barbara Forshier is a tireless advocate for healthcare professionals, caring for her clients in the same way they care for their patients. Barbara will always be upfront about the potential consequences as she fights for the best possible outcome. Contact Forshier Law today—We are a small firm dedicated solely to defending the licenses of healthcare professionals.