California Mandated Nurse Staffing Ratios Proven to Save Lives

April 2010

Over the past decade, UNAC/UHCP played a key role in establishing California’s mandated nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, which were designed to improve the quality of patient care and keep good nurses at the bedside.  A Health Research and Educational Trust study released this year confirmed the benefits of mandated nurse ratios, determining that the California nurse-to-patient ratio requirements are significantly associated with better patient outcomes than in other states that do not have such requirements.

Noting significantly lower patient mortality in 30-day inpatient mortality and failure-to-rescue, the study credited California’s nursing ratios with improving quality of care, nurse workloads, nurse retention, and the relative attractiveness of employment in California hospitals. The ratios were also determined to decrease patient complaints, job dissatisfaction, burnout and the likelihood that RNs would seek work elsewhere, among other positive effects.

“The results of this study make us very proud to have fought so hard for state-mandated staffing ratios,” stated Kathy J. Sackman, RN, president of UNAC/UHCP. “As a union of RNs, we already knew more nurses at the bedside enhance the quality of patient care. It’s no wonder nurses prefer to work in hospitals where they can deliver great care with less workload stress. This study proves it is better for their patients.”

The study team, led by Linda Aiken at the University of Pennsylvania, compared survey data from a representative sample of almost 22,500 hospital staff nurses throughout California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and used state hospital discharge databases to come up with its findings. The study reflects that, if the average nurse-to-patient ratios in the hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania had been equivalent to the ratios in California, the states would have experienced 13.9% and 10.6% fewer surgical deaths during the study period, respectively.