ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A push to increase the number of nurses per patient at New York’s 185 acute care hospitals pits promises of fewer patient deaths and complications against a billion dollars or more in annual health care costs.
Advocates say required staffing of one nurse for every two intensive-care patients and 1-to-4 ratios in regular medical-surgical units will improve patient care, reduce deaths, complaints and readmissions and leave hospitals financially intact.
Jared Birnbaum is a registered nurse who works overnight shifts in the emergency room at the 650-bed Westchester Medical Center, a regional trauma center. After 3 a.m., he says he’s typically among five or six nurses for both the adult and pediatric emergency rooms, where one serious trauma patient can require three nurses. Those nurses, in turn, may not get back to their other patients for an hour or two, he said. When one nurse has to assess incoming patients for both rooms — say, because of a big car accident — someone walking in with a serious condition could wait 20 minutes to be seen at all, he said.
“What am I to do other than do the best of my ability to work with what we have?” he said. “It’s a lot of prioritization. We pretty much get patient and family complaints all the time just for length of stay and how long it takes to do certain tasks.”
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The New York State Nurses Association is backing a bill currently making its way through the state legislature to establish required staffing ratios. The group said members at 57 unionized hospitals last year filed 19,292 separate protests of staffing assignments they considered unsafe.
New York hospitals oppose the measure. They say the ratios would cost them and nursing homes about $3 billion annually, infringe on the flexibility to shift staff as needed and likely reduce some hospitals’ services and beds.
At Westchester Medical Center, where Birnbaum works, hospital spokesman David Billig said that as a Level One Trauma Center they can mobilize staff internally to address their variable needs and are confident in their ability to provide the best patient-centered care.