(Due disclosure: I have no complaint about staffing where I work. I’m fortunate, and that’s part of the reason I’ve worked there for 15 years now. )
As the NYT review below and years of other evidence make quite clear, understaffing nurses is a slow-moving disaster in America. When you’re a patient and you hit the call bell and wait, imagine how much better it would be if hospitals actually provided as many nurses as everyone agrees they need to. The odds are rather high that while you wait, far too few nurses than required are trying their best to keep up. Shockingly often, there are routinely fewer nurses than a hospital lists as rock bottom minimum. The nurses suffer, and you suffer. You suffer together.
Too often, nurses and patients fail to recognize they’re natural allies in this situation, both harmed by a common foe. Instead, nurses turn on nurses, and nurses and patients on each other. Staff nurses don’t create this bad situation: management does that. It’s killing many Americans every day, and causing far more of us harm and suffering. It forces many nurses into early retirement every day, often with injuries from working under such dangerous conditions. Why do we sit we Americans sit on our hands and ignore such a situation? Why do we tolerate paying by far the most on earth for our health care AND accepting inferior service? I don’t mean to criticize the nurses – I am one myself – but when you make far too few of us serve far too many, that amounts to inferior service. The best nurses on earth still have two hands and one brain, each. We often survive short staffing, but it never amounts to full service. It can’t.
We watch facilities reap huge extra profits by making sure the staffing is short, one way or another. It’s clear that many facilities plan to keep staffing short and nurse hours long. They decide not to hire more nurses, for instance, for no other reason than to make more money. They don’t plan for flu season, just let the sick calls deplete staffing every year as if it’s a surprise. They bill exactly the same prices for far less service than they promise and owe us. Bills assume adequate staffing, no less. To routinely charge full price for less product sounds like intentional fraud to me. How does it sound to you?
Cheating is by far the most reliable way to boost profits at many levels in health care. Short staffing is only one of the countless methods well-known for decades now. In this sense, America has tacitly, foolishly decided to ignore perhaps the largest organized criminal schemes in American history: hundreds of $billions annually. It dwarfs anything the bankers have ever attempted. We’ve even made it legal in many cases. Al Capone was a cheap harmless punk in comparison, but Americans had far more common sense back then. The bad guys were far less talented, far less ambitious.
Relevant authorities make it easy for robber barons to crush nurses who dare to protect patients from harm. In Arizona, where I’ve followed such activities for a few years now, hospitals routinely fire nurses for doing just that. Corrupt and colluding state authorities then take their licenses, whether or not there is any allegation of misdeed. I’d like to think that Arizona is an outlier or the worst case, but the available evidence suggests otherwise.
Americans trust nurses more than any other profession in America, year after year.
Americans also let us get thrown under the bus with impunity to help corrupt facilities give less care for more money.
Does America hate nurses, or hate quality health care?
When will we demand something rather better?
When will Americans, at long last, wake up and demand they get what they pay for?
I’d like to know, I really would.
That New York Times article I mentioned up top: