Hospitals were already struggling with staffing issues prior to 2020, but the events of the last few years have produced a veritable crisis all around the United States. It makes no difference whether you’re talking about rural hospitals, urban hospitals or teaching hospitals – they’re all chronically short-handed.
This isn’t just bad news, it’s also bad medicine. When hospitals are understaffed, doctors, nurses and their patients suffer the consequences. A letter sent by the American Hospital Association (AHA) to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2022 called the situation “a national emergency” in healthcare. The letter estimated that the U.S. is about 1.1 million nurses short of what they need – at a minimum – and the situation is only growing bleaker.
Medical workers are exhausted and patients are suffering
One of the most significant dangers of hospital understaffing is the increased risk of medical errors. Doctors and nurses are working long shifts without adequate breaks, which leads to physical and mental fatigue (burnout) that can affect a medical provider’s attention span, processing skills and judgment. That leads to mistakes ranging from incorrect medication dosages to misdiagnoses – which are already a major leading cause of death in this country.
Hospital understaffing can also lead to a lack of attention and care for patients. When healthcare professionals are overworked and have too many patients to care for, they can’t provide the attention and support their patients need. That leads to additional problems like:
- Patients waiting too long for bathroom assistance, which can lead to them soiling themselves or attempting it alone
- Patients being left with adequate pain control because there aren’t enough nurses to make the rounds in a timely fashion
- Shortcuts in care, which put patients at risk of hospital-acquired infections and other injuries
- Increased waiting times to be seen, which put patients with acute conditions (like heart attacks) in serious danger
All of these things have very significant consequences for patients. For example, central line-associated blood infections rose 28% between 2019 and 2020, and patient falls climbed by 17%, while bed sores among nursing home patients rose by 42%.
If you or your loved one must visit a hospital for any reason, it’s wise to be aware of the staffing issues. No matter what, though, you have a right to expect a certain standard of care from your medical providers. If they fail you, it may be time to learn more about your legal rights.