Are Nursing Shortages Causing Deaths?
A nonprofit group's report says more immigrant nurses and training programs are needed to ease patient suffering
by Moira Herbst
The U.S. is facing a severe nursing shortage, and it's causing increased death and illness for American patients, says a report released on Sept. 5 by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a free market-oriented nonprofit group. As baby boomers are aging and require more care, the U.S. could face a shortage of one million nurses by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Relieving patient suffering amid the growing crisis will require both investment in U.S. nursing training and boosting the numbers of immigrant nurses admitted to the country, says the NFAP study.
Nursing Applicants Turned Away
"It's simple: Not enough nurses means bad patient outcomes," says Stuart Anderson, executive director of NFAP. "Nurses make a great difference in preventing infection, illness, and death, and public policy needs to ensure there are enough of them."
The NFAP study, entitled "Deadly Consequences: The Hidden Impact of America's Nursing Shortage," is in part a review of the medical literature on the shortage and in part a set of policy proposals. NFAP cites a number of studies, including one by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on surgery patients, which found that increasing a nurse's workload from four to eight patients could be accompanied by a 31% increase in patient mortality. The study concluded that "substantial decreases in mortality rates could result from increasing registered nurse staffing, especially for patients who develop complications."
The NFAP report focuses on two policy recommendations: increasing nursing faculty and school infrastructure and relaxing immigration quotas to bring in more foreign nurses. First, NFAP calls for increasing both private and public sector funding for U.S. nursing training programs. U.S. nursing schools do not have enough capacity to accommodate students applying for training programs. Most nursing schools have two- to three-year waiting lists, and turn away more than 100,000 applicants each year.
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