Greater nurse staffing levels yield shorter hospital stays and fewer preventable occurrences of infection, according to a study prepared for the American Nurses Association.
The study's release last week coincided with ANA newspaper advertisements giving consumers several questions to ask hospitals about nurse staffing before being admitted.
The ads, which ran in USA Today and the Washington Post, say hospitals are replacing nurses with unlicensed personnel to reduce costs and boost profits.
Last week was national nurses week. The ANA marked the event with the release of the study, which was conducted by the healthcare consulting firm Network. The study supports the ANA's long-running contention that nursing staff cutbacks at hospitals are jeopardizing patient care.
The study of hospitals in California, Massachusetts and New York found that hospitals with more nurses per patient day tended to have shorter lengths of stay.
The study also linked fewer incidents of pneumonia, urinary tract infections, post-operative infections and pressure ulcers to more highly skilled nursing staffs and, to a lesser extent, greater numbers of nurses per patient day.
"A discount approach to care may boost the bottom lines of hospital and insurance companies, but it does so at the expense of the patient," said Geraldine Marullo, the ANA's executive director.
ANA President Beverly Malone added that the organization wants HHS to examine whether hospital mergers and acquisitions, and the downsizing that sometimes results, will hurt patient care.
The ANA had federal legislation introduced in March that would require HHS to take on that role.
"It's time for us to get together and not make cost be the only factor driving the healthcare system," she said.
Richard Wade, the American Hospital Association's senior vice president for communications, said the nurses' study and ad campaign should alert hospitals to quality issues in a competitive marketplace.
"The ANA initiative is a clear heads-up to all of our members . . . that there's a right way and wrong way" to cut costs and become more competitive, Wade said. "It's in no hospital's interest to have patients coming away feeling that they had less than an acceptable level of care."