The research team estimated that each additional nurse hour per patient day brought 10% lower odds of receiving penalties from the Hospital Readmissions Program, the federal effort that started in October 2012 and aimed to reduce the $15 billion in annual Medicare expenditures on preventable readmissions. Hospitals paid about $280 million in penalties for preventable readmissions in fiscal 2013.
“Our findings highlight a component of the hospital care delivery system that can be targeted to limit hospitals' exposure to readmissions penalties while improving patient outcomes,” the authors wrote. “By focusing on a system factor such as nurse staffing, administrators may be able to address multiple quality issues while reducing their likelihood of penalty for excess readmissions.”
In a news release, McHugh said nurses are responsible for many activities associated with reducing readmissions, including coordinating care, overseeing care in the hospital, planning for patients' discharge from the hospitals, and educating patients and their families about what to do when they return home. “It's rather intuitive that when they have adequate staffing and resources to carry out these activities properly, readmission rates decline. This study strongly supports the idea that nurse staffing is one key component of healthcare delivery that hospitals can address to both improve patient outcomes and reduce the likelihood of being penalized for excessive readmissions.”
Increased staffing levels have long been a goal for nursing unions. The National Nurses United, the country's largest nurses union, has launched initiatives in several states to convince state lawmakers to adopt legislation that would establish minimum patient-nurse staffing ratios. The American Nurses Association, a teaching organization, supports the need for federal legislation for staffing ratios, while the AHA opposes such mandatory ratios.
Follow Ashok Selvam on Twitter: @MH_aselvam