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We know, for instance, that if you have a better-educated work force, that’s a better way to improve your quality of care even if your numbers are a bit lower,” Mc Hugh said.
Raising nurses’ standing in the hospital settings would also be a help, he added.
There are fewer nurses, all working longer hours and rushing through more patients during every shift, as a result.
Hospitals across the country have growing caseloads of patients and limited numbers of nurses available to treat them—the consequence of 20 years of hospital downsizing due to state budget cuts and private mergers.
In some cases, the ratio laws might even leave some patients waiting longer to be treated, she added.
She doubts that any state will be interested in taking up the challenge of nurse-staff ratio reforms, as well.
“We’ve kind of adjusted, but I would find it difficult to think that a lot of states will move in this direction,” she said. Matthew Mc Hugh, associate professor of nursing and Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, notes that the nation’s health-care systems have recently been encouraging more nurses to pursue bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees.
A hospital’s patients will be better off when there are more experienced nurses to tend to them—all health experts agree with that. In 2004, California began implementing a law requiring all of its hospitals to limit the numbers of patients that its nurses could treat at any given time.
A survey of nurses by the American Nurses Association found 54% saying that they did not have sufficient time to spend on each patient, despite 43% of the respondents working longer hours during the prior year.
“I think we’re getting more sophisticated in our understanding of how we can get more out of the nurses that we have,” he said.