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August 09, 2002
Nursing Shortage Affecting Patients, Expected to Worsen
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According to a report from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the severe nursing shortage in America is the cause of "tens of thousands" of deaths from hospital errors like patient falls and hospital-acquired infections, and is expected to worsen, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports.

The non-profit commission found that there are 126,000 nursing vacancies, a number expected to grow to 400,000 by 2020. JCAHO president Dr. Dennis O'Leary said that the shortage has received more attention lately, but an adequate solution has yet to be formulated.

O'Leary emphasized that the report may underestimate the gravity of the situation because errors are often underreported or attributed to other factors.

He told the Foundation, "There seems to be a tacit belief that where we are now is OK. We're saying somebody ought to be really bothered about this right now, and it's probably going to get worse if we don't wake up."

The report offers several proposed solutions to the shortage. Included in the report are suggestions for so-called "magnet hospitals" with improved training, adequate staffing and zero-tolerance policies aimed at combating abuse against nurses. These hospitals would attempt to attract and retain nurses. Also suggested in the report were increased government funding for nursing education and a standardized post-graduate nursing residency program, according to the Foundation.

But some people think that the proposed solutions are inadequate. David Schildmeier told the Foundation, "The thing that's missing here is setting nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, which is the key to addressing the shortage and keeping nurses at the bedside."

While President Bush signed the Nurse Reinvestment Act last week as an effort to ease the shortage through scholarships and loans for nurse training, some say that the effort is not enough. According to the Foundation, critics say that while the legislation is a step in the right direction, there are currently no guaranteed funds to back the bill.

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