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Better Working Conditions for Nurses Might Decrease Patient Infections

Hospitals that have better working conditions for nurses are safer for elderly intensive care unit (ICU) patients, according to a recent report , led by researchers that measured rates of hospital-associated infections. Hospital associated infections are the number six cause of death in the United States (CDC March 2007). Nurses, as the largest workforce in the nation's hospitals, are in a unique position to positively impact the safety of ICUs if systematic improvements to their working conditions can be made.

A review of outcomes data for more than 15,000 patients in 51 U.S. hospital ICUs showed that those with high nurse staffing levels (the average was 17 registered nurse hours per patient day) had a lower incidence of infections. Higher levels of overtime hours were associated with increased rates of infection and skin ulcers.

On average nurses worked overtime 5.6 percent of the time. These findings, reported in the June issue of Medical Care, one of the leading health care administration journals, support the notion that a systematic approach aimed at improving nurse working conditions will improve patient safety.

"Nurses are the hospitals' safety officers," said Patricia W. Stone, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., assistant professor of nursing at Columbia University Medical Center and the study's first author. "However, nursing units that are understaffed and that have overworked nurses are shown to have poor patient outcomes.

Improvements in nurse working conditions are necessary for the safety of our nation's sickest patients. With the looming nursing shortage, hospitals direly need to address working conditions in order to help retain current staff now and recruit people into nursing in the future."

Researchers evaluated several measures of working conditions to assess their effect on hospital-associated infections. They analyzed the organizational climate as measured by nurse surveys, and reviewed
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