What Leads to Short Staffing in Nursing?
Short-staffed medical facilities occur when the number of admitted patients surpasses the unit’s maximum capacity per nurse under the standards of quality and safety. Unfortunately, this is now the norm rather than the exception, thanks to a number of issues—including the pandemic. Other factors that contribute to short staffing in nursing include:
- The epidemic of nurse burnout is a factor in short staffing. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a staggering 17.5 percent of newly licensed RNs leave their first nursing job within the first year. One in three RNs leaves their first nursing job within two years as a result of nurse burnout.
- Nurses are asked so frequently to cover the shifts of others that they begin to tune out these “asks,” leading to further short-staffing.
- There is a nationwide shortage of nurses due to the increased age of baby boomers, along with the Covid crisis. It is estimated that more than a million new nurses will be required by 2030. This includes RNs LPNs, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives.
- The health events, personal obligations, and schedule rigidity of nursing staff have forced them to take time away from work in order to balance their personal and work life.
The inability to safely staff every shift threatens the well-being of both nurses and their patients. Overwork due to short staffing can cause nurses to make mistakes they might otherwise not have made, potentially placing their nursing license in jeopardy. Attorney Barbara Forshier can help those who are facing licensing issues due to an error. Barbara was a nurse for over three decades before getting her law degree and continued to work in both nursing and the legal profession. Barbara now spends all her time defending the licenses of medical professionals. Her law firm, Forshier Law, LLC, is devoted entirely to this specialized area.
What Are the Consequences of Nursing Understaffing?
Short staffing in nursing has been shown to be directly responsible for negative patient outcomes. Overworked nurses often suffer from extreme fatigue and burnout, impairing their ability to focus. This lack of focus then leads to medical errors as well as a lack of engagement—also known as compassion fatigue. Patients in understaffed facilities can face the following adverse results:
- Falls can occur when the patient attempts to attempt movement on their own because the nurse is unable to spend an adequate amount of time with them. When a call light is not immediately answered, the patient may attempt to get out of their bed to go to the bathroom or to find a nurse, then may experience a fall.
- Medication errors are much more common in understaffed facilities. An overly rushed nurse can miss things they might otherwise have noticed. Medical errors can be serious, even fatal, leading to complaints filed against the nurse.
- Post-operative complications are more common when patients have less care following their operation. The nurse must have the time to recognize early changes in a patient’s condition. If a nurse is not able to spend time assessing each patient subtle changes can be missed early before a catastrophic event. In other cases, physical post-op issues can exacerbate quickly when there is not a nurse present on a regular basis.
- Bedsores, also known as pressure sores, are caused when an immobile person lies for long periods of time in a bed because no one is available to help them turn over. Nurses who are dealing with understaffing and long shifts will lack the time to properly reposition patients which could lead to state-reportable bedsores.
- Patient dissatisfaction is more likely when there are fewer nurses to check on the patient and answer any questions they might have.
- Higher mortality rates overall are the most adverse risk of short staffing in nursing.
In addition to adverse outcomes for patients when there is short staffing in nursing, there are also adverse outcomes for the nurses. The more understaffed shifts nurses must endure, the faster they will experience burnout or compassion fatigue. Understaffed healthcare facilities place the same amount of work on fewer nurses who then end up working longer hours.
When this becomes the norm rather than the exception, nurses can have a breakdown in their mental, physical, and emotional health. Nurses who face this level of constant stress can develop severe exhaustion, depression, hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders. Short staffing in nursing often costs nurses their careers and should be addressed by the administration.
How Can You Avoid Risking Your License Due to Nursing Understaffing?
If you are a nurse who works in a facility that consistently experiences short staffing issues, it is imperative that you take steps to prevent nursing burnout and exhaustion. Speaking to your direct supervisor is a good first step and you may be able to talk to co-workers about the issue, then present your issues to hospital administration. Always document your conversations in a follow-up email and keep a copy of it. If it turns out that the facility has no intention of doing anything about the short staffing issue, it could be time to look for a workplace that is not chronically understaffed. Nurses may also reach out to their elected officials as this is a community threat.
You never want to risk your nursing license because of short staffing. If the administrators do not address the short staffing issue, consider using the ADO (Assignment Despite Objection) form, which is used by registered nurses to formally document circumstances in which the RN believes a staffing situation is inadequate or unsafe. When you fill out this document, responsibility is shifted back to management, which helps protect your license. The ADO form can be found here. While there’s nothing wrong with helping out in a pinch, a facility that is chronically understaffed has administration problems that need to be addressed.
What Should You Do When Facing a False Allegation?
Facing a Board complaint can be extremely distressing for any nurse, especially when you are being investigated by the Nursing Board for something you feel is unfair or untrue. Since the Minnesota Board of Nursing exists to protect the public, you need a strong legal advocate by your side from the moment you learn of the false allegation. Your initial response to the Board is crucial as it gives you the first opportunity to explain why the allegations against you are untrue, exaggerated, or have mitigating circumstances. Having a strong nursing license attorney from Forshier Law by your side from beginning to end can significantly change the outcome of the allegations.
How a Nursing License Attorney from Forshier Law Can Help
Getting the help you need from the Minnesota nursing license defense attorney at Forshier Law is your very best course of action when facing any threat to your nursing license. When understaffing, long shifts, too much overtime, or any other issue pose a risk to your nursing license, do not attempt to handle the issue on your own. Attorney Barbara Forshier understands what you are going through much better than most attorneys because she spent 35 years as a nurse before changing careers, specializing as a nursing license attorney. Contact Barbara Forshier at Forshier Law today.