Balancing The Red Cross: An Examination of Hospital Malpractice and the Nursing Shortage

Source: Lauren Kugielska and Melissa Linker, Hofstra Labor & Employment Law Journal, Vol. 25 no. 2, February 4, 2009

Hospital malpractice appears to have reached a peak in the United States. Studies suggest that this trend has been in the works for well over a decade. A reporting of hospital deficiencies suggests a link between poor working conditions for hospital employees and an increased risk to patient safety. Specifically, “the long and unpredictable hours” that nurses work contribute to adverse effects on patient care.

In Part I of this note, we explore the cause of the current surfacing of adverse medical care: a universal nursing shortage. The nursing shortage stems from problems on two fronts: there is (1) a decrease in those entering the profession, and (2) an increase in turn-over rates. The shortage’s common catalyst–mandatory overtime–is addressed and discussed. The effects of this common catalyst on nurses are surveyed: fatigue, job dissatisfaction and lower-quality nurse health. Part I illustrates the cyclical relationship between high rates of hospital error and the nursing shortage, which has contributed to the rise of hospital malpractice and resulted in the neglect of patient and nurse health. Thus, in order to resolve the adverse effects of poor patient care, the needs of patients and nurses must be addressed.

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