Nurses at Kansas City’s Research Medical Center held a rally on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 to address concerns regarding the shortage of nurses at the hospital and its potential impact on patient safety. The rally developed out of negotiations between the hospital and the nurses’ union over a new labor contract. The nurses participating in the rally stated that their primary goal is patient safety, while hospital officials stated that it was a “bargaining tactic” in the ongoing contract negotiations.
Nurses in Research Medical Center’s intensive care unit claim that they must care for at least 3 patients at a time, while nurses in other departments report having upwards of 5 patients at a time. They state that this stretches the nursing staff thin and increases the likelihood of injuries among patients and errors affecting patient health, including errors in prescribing and administering medications. Nurses who must divide their time among too many patients are more prone to fatigue and mistakes in judgment. Studies indicate that a 2 to 1 patient-to-nurse ratio is ideal in intensive care facilities, the nurses say.
The Kansas City nurses’ complaints illustrate an alarming trend in hospitals. The Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, has found an average rate of one medication error per patient per day in America’s hospitals, regardless of the number or employment status of its nurses. A University of Pennsylvania study has shown an increased incidence of patient deaths in hospitals with high patient-to-nurse ratios, with factors such as fatigue and burnout leading to a higher rate of mistakes. This Kansas City Injury Lawyer Blog has previously commented on reports that hospitals using temporary emergency room staff, including nurses, show an elevated risk of medication errors, largely because temporary staff lack familiarity with the hospital’s facilities and procedures. These factors may have come together recently in San Francisco with tragic results, when a patient died as a result of a medication error during a nursing strike, when replacement staff was on duty.
Nurses, doctors, and all other medical staff owe an absolute duty of professional care to hospital patients without regard to labor conditions. Recent events surrounding labor disputes between nurses and hospitals are unfortunate and sometimes tragic, but the need for patient care continues unabated. Medication errors in hospitals may include incorrect prescriptions written by doctors, incorrect medications provided by hospital pharmacies, or incorrect administration or dosage by nurses or other staff. Medical professionals and the hospitals that employ them are liable for damages caused by medication errors. In situations where understaffing and use of temporary staff may affect patient safety, patients and their families can take steps to protect themselves by educating themselves about the hospital’s policies and procedures and staying engaged with the hospital staff during the patient’s treatment as much as possible.
Doug Horn, a Kansas City medication error attorney, has over 20 years of experience helping people recover compensation for injuries and losses resulting from errors by medical professionals. Contact the Horn Law Firm for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.
Preventing Medication Errors: Quality Chasm Series, Institute of Medicine, July 20, 2006
Facts About Medication Errors, B. Braun Medical, Inc.