Safe staffing for nurses will save lives

By Allison Zimmer Lonczak

I come from a long line of nurses so I’ve always had a passion for nursing. It was my dream to be a nurse. When I first started out, I worked for a few years along side my mother. The experience gave a deeper respect for her work ethic and made me want to improve the profession so that more children of nurses will want to follow in their parents footsteps. Now that I’ve been in the profession for a few years, understaffing has become more of an issue for me. I see the effects of understaffing and the burnout it causes first-hand.

When building a house, one does not worry about what paint colors they will use first, they worry about foundation and structural integrity before all else. That same thought should be put into building better hospitals.

Patients have a the right to the best care possible — that starts with safe staffing

If we are going to improve the quality of healthcare and build better hospitals, a major structural defect is being over looked: safe staffing for nurses and their patients. While nurses all over this country are trying to improve patient satisfaction and more importantly improve patient’s overall outcomes, we are being faced with having to work with understaffed units.

Staffing nursing units to appropriate levels is imperative for patient’s outcomes. Patients have a fundamental right to be taken care of in the best way possible.

Hospital administrations across this country are compromising this right, and stripping our integrity away from us as nurses. The lack of adequate staff is discouraging. Discouraging is the only way to describe how I feel and I know other nurses feel the same way, because we want to be able to care for our patients appropriately. We want to give them the attention that they need and if we had more staff, we could do just that.

When a patient walks into a hospital, it is their fundamental right to be taken care of to the best of everyone who touches them abilities, no matter their socio-economic status or geographic area. This starts with not overextending nurse to patient ratios. When hospitals have units that are staffed to safe levels, many things improve: patient satisfaction, staff morale, and overall health outcomes. In addition, sentinel events decrease and cost savings in healthcare increase. The most jarring realization from research on this topic is that higher number of nurses on units improves survival rates for critically ill patients; this means that nurses can intervene sooner, and respond to critical changes with precise training and skill.

As nurses we all chose a profession that is to serve others, we are caring and compassionate people who very often put others needs before our own. We all chose this in life, what we did not choose is feeling as if we are not doing the best for our patients 100 percent of the time.

We did not choose budgets cuts, we did not choose healthcare cuts, we did not choose hiring freezes and we did not choose to be overworked, yet everyday all around the country nurses put on their scrubs and head to their units to do the best possible job with what resources we have. It is disheartening to hear nurses leaving the bedside because they simply cannot take the stress and workload. We choose this profession to help others, and improve their quality of life, if we cannot do that many more will leave and few will choose nursing.

Nurses use hope as a coping mechanism to see good in very hard situations. We are hoping for the future to be able to care for our patients with strict guidelines and resources that allow us to help all that come into our hospital rooms, patients and families. The introduction of federal safe staffing legislation gives me hope. I’m happy to hear that members of Congress are focused on addressing the problem. But I also hope that our lawmakers remember that staffing is a complex problem that requires a dynamic solution.

Our patients are our neighbors, our community leaders, our youth and our elderly; patients are our family. We hope we can change for the benefit of you.

Allison Zimmer Lonczak, RN has been an emergency room nurse for 5 years and is member of University Health Professionals/AFT Connecticut.