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In The Wake of a Shocking Report Showing 195,000 Preventable Deaths Per Year in Nation’s Hospitals, Mass. Nurses & Patient Advocates Make Final Push to Pass Safe Staffing Bill

Majority of Deaths Detailed in Report Result from Complications Caused by Poor RN Staffing

Legislators Have Until July 31st to Pass Legislation to Establish Safe, Minimum RN-to-Patient Ratios in Hospitals

Boston, Mass.— In the wake of the release this week of a shocking report that found more than 195,000 patients die needlessly every year in our hospitals from a series of complications directly related to poor nurses staffing, nurses in Massachusetts will be leafleting legislators outside the State House when they return to work on Friday and flooding legislators’ offices with phone calls and emails in a final push to convince lawmakers to pass legislation, H. 1282, a bill to establish RN-to-patient ratios in acute hospitals, before the end of the legislative session on July 31st.

The report, entitled “Patient Safety in American Hospitals” was released this week by HealthGrades, Inc., a leading health care quality research firm. Among its findings:

  • "The equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people are dying each year due to likely preventable, in-hospital medical errors, making this one of the leading killers in the U.S.," according to the study’s author.
  •  The cost of these incidents exceeds $19 billion.
  •  The authors attributed the majority of these deaths to "failure to rescue" (which refers to nurses and physicians failure to promptly diagnose and treat conditions that develop in a hospital), bedsores, postoperative sepsis and post-operative pulmonary embolisms.

Safe Staffing has been Linked to Reductions in Errors and the Costs of Treating Them
Improving RN-to-patient ratios has been shown in a number of studies to prevent or reduce the types of errors identified in the study, including:

  • The Institute of Medicine reported last year poor RN staffing and forced overtime were a major contributing cause of medical errors, and that improved staffing could reduce these errors significantly.
  • The Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations linked poor staffing to 25% of serious medical incidents.
  • The New England Journal of Medicine found that better RN-to-patient ratios could reduce failure to rescue and sepsis by 6%.
  • JAMA reported that for every patient in addition to four assigned to a nurse, the risk of death and failure to rescue increase by 7%. The author of the study concluded that legislation to regulate RN-to-patient ratios was a credible approach to improving patient safety in hospitals.
  • The DPH reports a 76% increase over the last seven years in the number of medical errors, patient falls, complications and complaints by Massachusetts hospital patients, with the majority of complaints related to the quality of nursing care.

The safe staffing bill currently awaits action in the House Ways and Means Committee after winning unanimous approval from the Joint Committee on Health Care, being co-sponsored by 102 of the 200 legislators, endorsed by 70 of the state’s leading health care and consumer groups, with polls showing 8 in 10 voters and 9 in 10 nurses support the measure.

According to MNA President Karen Higgins, RN, this recent report follows more than 15 other similar studies that have come out in the last three years that validate the vital role nurses play in preventing harm to patients. “Nurses are the surveillance system in the hospital. We are there to monitor a patient’s condition, administer medications and treatments, and to notice when problems arise and then work with physicians to take appropriate actions. When we have too many patients, as most nurses do every day in Massachusetts, we are more apt to miss these subtle changes, and failure to rescue occurs,” Higgins explained. This report makes clear that the hospital industry is failing to provide the conditions to safely care for patients. We intend to make the legislature understand that if they fail to act before July 31, thousands of patients in our hospitals will die and millions of health care dollars will be wasted. The time has come to end the suffering in our hospitals and pass this bill.”