News & Events

MNA members report loud and clear: unsafe staffing remains the greatest patient care concern

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
January 2009 Edition

In late October, Opinion Dynamics Corporation, a leading national consulting firm specializing in market and opinion research, conducted a poll of MNA members to learn more about their thoughts regarding the organization’s efforts to pass the Patient Safety Act. The Patient Safety Act, filed by the MNA for the past several legislative sessions, would require the Department of Public Health to set a limit on the number of patients a nurse can be forced to care for at one time.

In both 2006 and 2008, this legislation passed the state House of Representatives by overwhelming margins. The House bill, however, continues to face opposition in the Senate. Consequently, the MNA Board of Directors felt strongly that we should hear more from MNA members about where to go from here.

Accordingly, Opinion Dynamics surveyed 400 MNA members by telephone in late October. Results have a maximum margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Members overwhelmingly continue to identify understaffing as the most important difficulty they face at work. When asked an open-ended question about the biggest problem or negative thing members face while on the job, 41 percent identified understaffing. This issue dwarfed any other problem raised by members, with the next biggest problem earning only a 9 percent response rate.

When asked what issue the MNA should focus on in the state legislature, 68 percent of members said staffing levels. When asked to identify which legislative issue was most important from a list of several such issues, 80 percent of members said staffing was the most critical issue.

Members also said that understaffing is clearly leading to negative outcomes for patients. Fully 61 percent of members reported that having too many patients caused complications for their patients and a shocking 40 percent reported being aware of patient deaths caused by understaffing.

These findings are truly alarming. Understaffing is also hampering attempts to retain nurses at the bedside. The survey found that 40 percent of nurses report a desire to leave bedside nursing, with the majority identifying poor staffing/workload stress as the primary reason. There is just no doubt about it: Understaffing remains the most significant issue faced by registered nurses working in acute care hospitals.

The survey also revealed an astonishing level of legislative activism among MNA members. Almost half of MNA members (48 percent) have participated in some type of legislative advocacy during the past four years, whether it was calling their elected officials, attending a meeting with legislators to lobby them directly, or attending a rally or press event on safe staffing. This is a remarkable level of activism, and the survey also showed a significant capacity for growth, as over 80 percent of members expressed a willingness to engage in these kinds of activities in the future.

Finally, members felt strongly that the Legislature remains the best forum for addressing the problem of understaffing. Despite what a long and difficult fight this has been, members continue to have faith in the legislative process and believe that a statewide patient safety standard is the best way to keep patients safe. Fully 86 percent of members feel that we should continue to pursue legislation to address this problem.

The results of the Opinion Dynamics survey will be very helpful to the Board of Directors as they make decisions about how to proceed strategically on the Patient Safety Act.

Thanks to all members who participated in the survey.