Cape Cod Times: I worked as a registered nurse for more than 45 years, first in Boston and then at Cape Cod Hospital. I have lived on the Cape since the early ’60s. I have always been very proud of my profession and have spent most of those years advocating for not only my profession but for all patients.
As an advocate for safe patient care, I would like to share some information with readers about the need for safe patient limits and the need to support the Patient Safety Act, which will appear on the November 2018 ballot as a referendum question.
My work was primarily in the intensive care unit, where I had the responsibility to care for critically ill patients and their families during one of most difficult times in their lives. All the staff was dedicated to providing the highest level of personal support, compassion and care in an area where we rely on a great deal of technology.
The nurses and other staff members I worked with at the time know we were fortunate to have practiced in a time when hospitals were more concerned about results — patient outcomes as opposed to bottom lines, whether at a nonprofit facility or not.
Nurses provide one another with the level of care and reassurance necessary to meet the demands of our profession. Asking hospitals to provide their nurses with a safe limit on the number of patients that nurses are required to care for is not only reasonable but absolutely essential to ensuring the best possible outcomes for the patients. Safe staffing levels lessen medication errors and limit the opportunities to miss subtle changes in a patient’s condition that can save them from further illness. Safe staffing levels also lessen rates of pneumonia and urinary tract infections, and lengths of hospital stays and readmissions. These all cost the hospitals money. (There have been literally hundreds of studies since 2004 supporting this information, and as recently as 2016). When one is rushing, errors will occur.
I realize that costs are a concern; but that concern should never come at the expense of the health and well-being of a patient or potentially that patient’s life. This is the reality that we nurses face day in and day out, each and every shift. Patients, their families and physicians depend on us to be there, to observe, to notice changes and to get it right, every single hour of every single day. Lives are at risk. In our insurance-driven health care climate, patients of today tend to be admitted only when they are acutely ill, making them sicker than patients of the past, and they do not stay in the hospital very long.
I write this letter not only as a nurse but as a future patient and for family members who are now or in the future could be patients in a hospital which is not properly staffed.
I urge Massachusetts voters to ask these questions when considering whether or not to support the Patient Safety Act:
• Do you think it’s safe and responsible to ask a nurse to care at one time for seven to nine patients (there are no limits now) with different diagnoses and differing degrees of illness requiring different levels of care?
• Would you be confident that a loved one who was one of those patients had received the amount of care that you think was warranted?
• What if something did go wrong?
• When hospital executives suggest that a law mandating staffing levels would undermine a nurse’s freedom of flexibility to do the job, do you really think that is their primary concern in opposing this law? (Let me say this about flexibility in our day-to-day practice of nursing: There is none. A nurse who asks for more help is likely to be told to do the best she or he can!)
• Should sick and unstable patients be vulnerable to the flexible discretion of any CEO’s priorities?
I urge voters to vote “yes” on the patient safety ballot measure. “Vote yes to limits.”