If you have ever survived a huge RIF (reduction in force) at your company you know what comes next. The surviving employees must pick up the slack and do extra work. Your company is now understaffed. Without enough employees to do a job, the job cannot be done properly. This can lead to attitudes like, “this will have to do,” “this was not in my job description,” and “I can’t continue to do everything.” Short cuts must be taken. Work quality suffers. Things get missed. You are left hoping you do not make a mistake that cannot be corrected.
The health care profession is not immune to understaffing. Understaffing occurs at hospitals and nursing homes for many reasons. Owners often intentionally understaff their facilities, short-term and long-term, to boost profits. Patients do not receive appropriate care. In the hospital setting it could be health care providers missing signs and symptoms of a serious condition; in nursing homes, it could result in abuse or neglect. Understaffing is associated with high urinary catheter use, poor skin care, poor feeding, malnutrition, dehydration, and starvation. Overworked staff tend to rush around, sometimes intentionally skipping certain care needs. Patients’ conditions are more likely to decline.
In an understaffed facility, expect the unexpected. Medical errors already plague U.S. hospitals. These medical errors are magnified and compounded when there are not enough employees to ensure proper patient care. For instance, a nurse responsible for the postoperative care of a patient might miss subtle signs and symptoms of a respiratory compromise. Rushing around and trying to accomplish too many things in a short period of time could lead the nurse to assume that her healthy patient will be okay, just like the many other patients before her, without focusing on the patient’s specific situation. Prematurely discharging the patient under the assumption that things will be fine, without paying attention to the amount of narcotic medication administered, could result in the patient suffering a fatal respiratory failure after getting home.
Sadly, there is no easy way to find out if your hospital or nursing home is understaffed; however, certain tell-tale signs could suggest you need to be concerned. For instance:
Is the nurse constantly rushing around and not taking the time to thoroughly answer your questions?
Does the nurse appear stressed or anxious?
Does the nurse appear to be cutting corners or not being thorough in her duties?
Is the patient’s condition deteriorating?
If you think understaffing caused injury to you or a loved one, you should call an experienced medical negligence attorney like the ones at Harris Powers & Cunningham (602.271.9344).