Nurses, Staffing, and Safety

Posted by

C/O Brenda McBeath on Pinterest
C/O Brenda McBeath on Pinterest

Nurses prevent thousands of treatment errors every day, many of them lethal.

How many minutes a day do you see your physician in hospital? How do they figure out how you’re doing or what you need in so little time?

My bad: that was a trick question! They don’t, because they can’t. How could they? They ask your nurse, and your nurse tells them how you’re doing and what you need. If your busy physician still gets it wrong, and they do get it wrong (remember thousands of times a day?), what then? Your nurse catches these errors and makes sure they get fixed. It happens every day in every hospital, everywhere.

I don’t mean to bash docs by the way, not at all, but the fact remains: they can only do ss much. They can’t take care of you themselves. It’s impossible. Nurses see you and listen to you for HOURS a day, not a few minutes. They find out how you’re doing and what you need, and they tell your physician. They protect you and give you more of a voice. They make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing: quite a feat, really, in such a chaotic and bust place. They do all that and more.

Unless… Unless we let health care become profit care instead. As has already happened in America. Unless we give hospitals every incentive to get rid of nurses, to replace experience and training with cheaper options, and so on to boost profits. Nurses cost money of course, and what is money not spent? It’s profit. The math is obvious: slashing nurses makes for big profits. No problem! No problem for the profit system, that is.

As for health care… When your nurse is too busy, too tired, too distracted, spread among too many patients (gotta boost profits!), when that happens, and it does happen all over America every day, then you don’t see your nurse as much. How could you? They’re not there: they’re somewhere else, with some other patient because they have so many to see. You hit the call light for some pain medication… nothing. You wait. Like anyone, a nurse can only be in one place a time, and more often than not, that place is somewhere else, helping someone else. If it seems harsh or unfair, get your priorities straight, selfish patient. Think profits!

You also don’t get that protection nurses give. Without it, your physician doesn’t know how you’re doing or what you need. They get confused more often, mix you up with another patient… More errors, and more errors that don’t get fixed. Maybe those errors get you killed. The thinner nurses gets stretched, the more patients each nurse has to juggle, the more you will suffer in hospital, and the more likely you will get sicker or even die there, you or your mother, child, or neighbor.

Maybe I’m pushing scare tactics.  Maybe I’m just trying to scare you and get more jobs for nurses. Is staffing plush enough for even more cuts, like the profit takers claim? Let’s figure it out together. It seems inconceivable that American hospitals accidentally kill very many patients, doesn’t it? It sounds outrageous, impossible. In America, really?

Humor me. Pick a number. Take your best guess. How many people do American hospitals accidentally kill? Pick a number: Americans killed every day, or every year, whichever you choose. Ready?

Medicare serves 1 in 6 Americans. Keep that in mind, it’s important: one in six. Consumer Reports used Medicare data to estimate total Americans killed by hospital errors each year.

Remember your number? I once guessed 100,000 a year. For comparison, Americans kill roughly 80,000 Americans a year with cars and guns, combined. As it turns out, I was too optimistic. The real number was 180,000 a year. 180,000! That’s 15,000 dead every month, 500 dead every day! Today, tomorrow, the next day… picture jumbo jets dropping out of the sky every day. Striking image, isn’t it? Imagine the scandal and outrage, all those fiery crashes day after day, all the grieving families…

Sadly, it gets worse. These numbers only account for Medicare patients, remember? Only one in six Americans. What about the other 5 in 6 Americans? Let’s do the math: six times more patients, right? 180,000 times 6: over a million dead Americans a year. 15,000 times 6: 90,000 dead Americans a month. 500 times 6:  3000 dead a day. Lots of burning jumbo jets! To be fair, Medicare folks are relatively old and sick and get more health care, so the totals are likely a bit lower. Phew! You’re in a pretty scary place when 500 deaths a day is an improvement…

That still leaves us with hospitals accidentally killing far more Americans than do cars and guns. Why don’t we notice? It’s not a surprise, really. Think about it. People expect some deaths in a hospital, and these deaths happen behind drawn curtains and closed doors. They’re private, hush-hush. Not much like burning jumbo jets, are they?

Still, what a sad, sad way to go! Death by error: “Sorry about killing you, it’s a shame really, but you have to keep it in perspective. We do need to make more money you see…”

“It’s OK. I died, yes. But I’m so glad you made a real killing doing it…”

Until we start paying hospitals more for quality and less to screw up, until we decide to stop spending so much money to let so many Americans die for no good reason, until we start paying hospitals less when they offer us less service, until we make health care top dog in the health care system once again, until such changes happen, we will continue to spend far more than any other nation on health care, only to help a few thousand more Americans killed today, and tomorrow, and the next day…

Imagine those executives, when they become patients. The irony!

Don’t get scared. That doesn’t help. Don’t get discouraged. That doesn’t help either. Get angry, get motivated.

Don’t ask for change: demand it!


  1. A nurse knows the patient more than a doctor does. In the Philippines where nurses are actually considered as ‘oversupplied’, hospitals still cut the number of nurses so they can ‘profit’. The problem is, some doctors rely a lot on nurses in terms of their patients’ conditions and it’s really tricky for the nurse to manage his/her when he/she has to attend to the whole ward because of understaffing. Some hospitals fail to see the importance of this profession. I just graduated this May, and when I was a student I get more clinical exposures than med students (although they get the more complicated study plans) and all they care is the pathophysiologic aspect and not the whole. The tuition we had to pay in order to finish this course is really expensive we work harder and clearly, we don’t deserve to be treated that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regardless of intelligence or education, virtually no one can remain as familiar with a patient given the time a typical doc spends with them as a typical nurse can with the amount of time they spend with them. You can’t keep up with patients with a few mninutes of contact a day. Hence, nurses know more, I agree.

      Sorry to here the poan extend to the Phillipines. Thanks for your input! – Greg

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So sad as you said money rules! Just reading here in the UK that members of parliament were just awarded a 10% pay rise (how much did nurses get 1% – something is wrong there!)


I love your comments! Please, take a moment & share.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s