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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Study Shows Hospital Nursing Staff Shortages May Cause 6,700 Patient Deaths Each Year

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A report on ABC News highlights the injuries and deaths caused each year by short-handed hospital nursing staffs. The tragic outcome of inadequate nursing care for patient Shirley Keck, which has resulted in a jury verdict of $2.7 Million against the hospital, is said to be the only successful malpractice lawsuit against a hospital citing inadequate nursing. But, the report believes the situation may only get worse unless serious efforts are made to increase nursing staffs. It references a study by Health Affairs medical journal – 6,700 patient deaths and four million days of hospital care could be avoided each year by increasing staff of registered nurses. More of the ABC News report is quoted below.

Does Nursing Shortage Cause Patient Neglect?

Shirley Keck, a 61-year-old mother of five, was having trouble breathing one Sunday afternoon, so her daughter, Becky Hartman, rushed her to the emergency room at Wesley Hospital in Wichita, Kan.

Doctors there thought Keck had pneumonia and admitted her. But for the next seven hours, Hartman sat by her mother’s bedside watching her condition deteriorate, and seeing her struggle for each breath. She said she repeatedly tried to get help from the nurses.

“I begged for help,” she said. “We had plenty of time to get help, and we got none.”

Keck did not have pneumonia. She was actually having a heart attack that was causing liquid to fill her lungs.

But because her primary nurse was overburdened – allegedly caring for 20 patients, more than the hospital’s own guidelines recommend – the nurse didn’t have time to observe Keck until she had to be resuscitated.

As a result of her heart attack, Keck suffered brain damage and was paralyzed. Her family sued the hospital and won $2.7 million.

Nursing care in America’s hospitals has reached a critical shortage – the worst in 50 years, according to Peter Buerhaus, the assistant dean of Vanderbilt School of Nursing, who has studied the problem. To make matters worse, just as there are fewer nurses, the population is aging and in need of more medical care.

So far, it is the only successful malpractice lawsuit against a hospital citing inadequate nursing. But amid an ongoing staffing shortage, it may not be the last.

Hospitals are under pressure to keep control of their bottom lines, and nurses account for a large part of their budgets. But a recent study published in the Health Affairs medical journal found hiring more nurses could actually save a hospital money in the long run. The study found 6,700 patient deaths and four million days of hospital care could be avoided each year by increasing staff of registered nurses.