How Have Mandated Nurse Staffing Ratios Affected Hospitals? Perspectives from California Hospital Leaders

Chapman, Susan A.; Spetz, Joanne; Seago, Jean Ann; Kaiser, Jennifer; Dower, Catherine; Herrera, Carolina
September 2009
Journal of Healthcare Management;Sep/Oct2009, Vol. 54 Issue 5, p321
Academic Journal
In 1999, California became the first state to pass legislation mandating minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. Regulations detailing specific ratios by type of hospital unit were released in 2002, with phased-in implementation beginning in 2004 and completed in 2008. These ratios were implemented at a time of severe registered nurse (RN) shortage in the state and a worsening financial position for many hospitals. This article presents an analysis of qualitative data from interviews with healthcare leaders about the impact of nurse staffing ratios. Twenty hospitals (including public, not-for-profit, and for-profit institutions) representing major geographic regions of California were approached. Twelve agreed to participate; semistructured in-person and telephone interviews were conducted with 23 hospital leaders. Several key themes emerged from the analysis. Most hospitals found it difficult and expensive to find more RNs to hire to meet the ratios. Meeting the staffing requirements on all units, at all times, was challenging and had negative impacts, such as a backlog of patients in the emergency department and a decrease of other ancillary staff. Hospital leaders do not believe that ratios have had an impact on patient quality of care. Findings related to nurse satisfaction were mixed. Increased RN staffing improved satisfaction with patient workload, but dissatisfaction with issues of decision-making control (e.g., decisions on when best to take a meal break) were taken out of the nurse's hands to meet ratio requirements. Further research should continue to monitor patient outcomes as other states consider similar ratio regulations. Results of this study will be useful to healthcare managers searching for ways to reduce unnecessary administrative costs while continuing to maintain the level of administrative activities required for the provision of safe, effective, high-quality care.


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