Most focus on preventable birth injuries is on what happens during the actual birth itself. We have repeated often how injuries like cerebral palsy and erb’s palsy are sometimes caused by excessive force or failure to account for fetal distress in a timely fashion. These are the “textbook” examples of medical negligence causing an injury at birth, and at those times the civil justice system can be used to ensure accountability and compensation.
Yet, what about proper care in the hospital once the child is already born? The same principles of reasonable care free of errors applies in those cases as well. Yet, some are pointing to a new study as an example of how far many facilities still have to go to provide proper medical to infants, particularly those in the most frail conditions
Nursing Levels and Infections
For example, not long ago Medscape Today published the results of a new research effort examining the role that nursing levels in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) have on infection levels and ultimate positive outcomes for children.
The study authors examined fragile infants in the NICU at several different hospitals. They tracked nursing to patient ratios and determined if there were any connections to negative, preventable outcomes–like hospital acquired infections.
The findings: Fewer nurses led to more infections. More specifically, the authors note that when the nurse to patient ratio was .1 lower than the minimum guidelines, there was a 40% higher risk of infection. That means that many parents are placing their children in intensive care units without realizing that their child may have a seriously increased risk of developing an infection as a result of administrative decisions made about staffing.
Profits Over Patients
This issue is one of those in the “profits over patients” debate. Hospitals must make choices all the time about how to organize the facility in order to provide the best care. That includes determining staffing levels for nurses. According to the study, in most cases, anywhere from 30-50% of facilities have nursing staffing levels below those recognized minimum levels. In other words, as many as one out of every two facilities were not even meeting the lowest threshold for nursing levels in these setting–let alone the best standards.
It does not take much imagination to understand how this problem leads to an excessive workload for nurses, making it impossible for them to provide the best care possible to their fragile patients. Corners are sometimes cut with harmful consequences.
Making matters worse, the authors of this particular study are concerned that the problem will only worsen, as hospitals continue to make cuts to staffing in order to increase profits. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that such decisions may literally have life and death consequences. In fact, many nursing groups fighting such cuts have made the very same point.
It is important for patients and safety advocates to make their position known–saving money should never be as important as saving levels. That is true in neonatal intensive care units and everywhere else in the facility. If more nurses are needed to ensure better outcomes for patients, those nurses should be secured. No excuses.
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