HOSPITAL SHORT-STAFFING TIED TO SERIOUS DELAYS IN EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES, SAY D.C. NURSES
Problems associated with RN short-staffing are played out on every floor, every day in the vast majority of this nation’s hospitals. That’s why the RNs of National Nurses United (NNU) place such a high priority on adequate staffing. Minimum nurse-to-patient ratios are the critical factor in providing safe, quality patient care. Just ask Leah Hale, RN.
Leah is a resident of Ward 5 and NNU member, working the emergency room of Washington Hospital Center, D.C.’s largest hospital.
Last week Leah testified before the District of Columbia Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, focusing on unconscionable delays encountered by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers who arrive at ERs only to find them backed up because available RNs are too few.
“While there are a number of reasons for the long waits, an important one is that there aren’t enough registered nurses to take care of patients in our hospitals—not only in the emergency rooms, but throughout the hospitals,” Leah told the Committee. “Paramedics, EMTs and fire fighters must wait with patients until hospital staff can care for them, which delays the return … to the streets.”
In fact, EMS wait times in D.C. hospitals were 79% longer in recent years than the average of other major cities surveyed. That translates into more than half of EMS call time – 55% - in D.C. is spent waiting in hospitals. “[A]verage drop times were almost 37 minutes and they went up in 2012,” recounted Leah.
“When there are no available in-patient beds or inadequate nursing staff in other units of the hospital patients are forced to stay in the emergency departments longer,” explained Leah.
“When patients, who should be transferred to in-patient beds, are forced to ‘board’ in the emergency department, it ties up emergency nurses to an even greater extent, making it extremely difficult to care for incoming patients.”
A majority of the DC Council is behind the Patient Protection Act, introduced February 5.
The bill is modeled after a highly successful California law that since its implementation nine years ago has saved thousands of patient lives, promoted improved overall quality of care, and helped keep the state’s most experienced nurses at the bedside.
Leah Hale was backed by the D.C. Firefighters Association, Local 36, at the hearing. “[Emergency vehicle] drop times at hospitals are increasing,” said Captain Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association. “We support National Nurses United with the Patient Protection Act and believe there is a direct correlation between staffing and drop times.”
“This measure is an important step toward ensuring that D.C. residents get quality care in our hospitals by mandating minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. It will also help cut down on the time that EMS professionals spend waiting at the hospitals.,” Leah told the Committee.
“D.C. residents deserve to have first-class hospital care when they or their loved ones need it. They also deserve to have emergency medical services respond quickly and get them the care they need promptly,” she said.