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Linda Hamilton: Numbers don't lie: Hospital staffing is weak

  • Article by: LINDA HAMILTON
  • January 23, 2011 - 5:55 PM

Commentary

People should not be dying needlessly in Minnesota hospitals.

Yet it continues to happen, as evidenced by the most recent release of the Annual Report on Adverse Events on Jan. 19.

It's easy for hospital executives and their PR pros to spin away the trends and statistics revealed in the latest report.

I can see the headlines already: "Only" 10 people died needlessly inside Minnesota hospitals in 2010.

And "only" 97 suffered serious disabilities resulting from preventable medical errors.

My question is this: What number would be acceptable to the Minnesota families whose loved ones were involved in these tragic events?

This is not about statistics. It is about real people, with real families.

Were this report to include the names, faces and stories of the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who suffered and even died without need inside our hospitals, people would view this annual report in a far different light.

During 2010, nurses across Minnesota called attention as never before to the issue of unsafe staffing and how our patients continue to be put in harm's way as a result.

We, the nurses who care directly for you, are saying in as plain a manner as possible that we can no longer guarantee your safety within the system hospital executives and administrators have created.

It's been proven time and again that unsafe staffing levels inside our hospitals lead to more patient deaths and a higher number of these "adverse events" we hear about in this report each January.

Yet hospital executives and their spin doctors continue to trot out phrases like "We remain committed to delivering affordable, accessible and quality health care to all Minnesotans" when explaining why they have slashed staffing levels to the bone and put their patients' lives and well-being at risk.

What's more, the mere mention of our nurses' intention to address the staffing issue during this year's legislative session led Minnesota hospital executives to quickly put together a public relations and lobbying blitz aimed at defeating any attempt to improve staffing conditions.

The millions of dollars these executives are likely to spend on a prolonged PR and lobbying campaign would go a long way toward addressing the staffing issue.

Remember, these are "nonprofit" hospitals that get generous tax breaks and government subsidies because they are supposed to be putting your safety as patients ahead of their corporate profits.

Nurses are consistently ranked as the most trusted professionals in the United States.

We are continuing to speak up about how dangerous conditions have become for our patients due to unsafe staffing. We've exposed the problem, and it's become obvious based on the hospital executives' response that we are going to need your help to fix it.

My hope is that you will take a moment to put yourself in our shoes and the shoes of the people whom we watch suffer and even die needlessly inside our hospitals every year.

It's easy to dismiss statistics and data. It's not so easy when you put a name, a face and a story to the suffering and death that can be prevented if our hospitals are staffed properly.

Linda Hamilton is president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents more than 20,000 nurses across the state.

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