Nurse Staffing and You

With one out of two nurses reporting inadequate time with patients, you’ll probably experience some form of short nurse staffing during your career. Even though research indicates that short staffing increases the chance of patient complications and medical errors, you may find that your facility still fails to employ enough nurses. Rather than risking burnout or delivering poor care to your patients, it’s important that you know how to ask for the extra help you need without placing your job in jeopardy.

Nurse Staffing Requirements Under the Law

Federal regulations require that medical facilities that participate in Medicare have adequate nurse staffing. The regulation does not specify specific staffing ratios, so thirteen states have passed laws that require facilities to publicly disclose staffing-to-patient ratios or have staffing committees that determine nurse staffing levels. Only California has a required ratio of nurse to patients while Massachusetts has a required level of nurse staffing for Intensive Care Units only.

Some states may not specify appropriate staffing levels but they may protect nurses who advocate for their patients. For example, the Texas Nursing Protection Act doesn’t allow employers to retaliate against you if you report them to a regulatory body because you have safety concerns related to poor staffing levels.

Advocating for Adequate Staffing Levels

Due to the lack of state-mandated staffing levels, your best option for increasing staffing is to advocate for management to provide better coverage. When asking for better coverage, your request should be clear and cite specific examples. If your facility has a nurse-driven staffing committee, you should discuss your specific on-the-job concerns with management that can refer this information to the committee.

American Nurse Today suggests you use the SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, Response) technique to discuss staffing shortfalls with management. Always start with your immediate supervisor; most medical facilities are hierarchical structures that strongly rely on the chain of command. It’s also important that you assess any response you receive and decide who you should speak to next to get an acceptable response.

Also consider joining professional organizations that advocate for legal protections for nursing and other regulations. If you belong to a union, make sure that your union is respectfully working with your employer to address short staffing issues.

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, short nurse staffing will continue to be a problem you’ll have to address. In addition to advocating for your patients with management, make sure that you’re consistently updating your own training and work habits to be the most effective nurse for your patients. That way you’ll be in the best possible position as a nursing advocate and a professional.