Malpractice can occur in a hospital setting for a variety of reasons, but one common reason is staffing. When a hospital facility does not have proper nurses on staff, patient care suffers. As patient care suffers, there is an increased risk of a patient experiencing a critical, if not fatal, medical error in their care.
Hospitals must ensure they have a proper nurse-to-patient ratio, and the proportion is dependent on the care wing. For example, a critical care unit would require a closer nurse-to-patient balance than a non-critical care unit. In fact, one study found that when there is a higher level of registered nursing staff on duty, there is lower patient mortality. The number of nurses on duty was one of the strongest predictors in whether there was a higher risk of death in a hospital unit.
A higher count of registered nurses on staff not only benefits the patient but the staff itself. When nurses are overwhelmed and have an unrealistic workload, the care they can extend, the time they spend with patients, and overall quality suffers. Furthermore, a nurse is more likely to suffer career burnout, possibly even leaving the field, calling in sick, or requiring replacement – which puts further strain on the patient care in the facility and nursing staff that remains.
How Staffing Problems Can Lead to Malpractice
Staffing is a critical concern for most hospitals around the country. There is a shortage of registered nurses and nurses’ aides, but there is also a limited budget from which medical facilities can even hire qualified nurses.
Just some of the ways inadequate staffing can lead to malpractice includes:
Failure to Monitor a Patient’s Vitals
Nurses periodically check on patients, whether they are high-risk or not, to measure their vitals, take records, and note the time they visited the patient. They may also ask a patient on a scale of 1-10 how they are feeling to gauge recovering, and those results are then relayed to the treating physician for further analysis.
When a nurse has more patients than they should, those periodic vital checks are spread out further – and sometimes much more than they should be. That increases the likelihood that a nurse may not discover a change in a patient’s condition quickly enough, and that could result in a delayed reaction by medical staff.
For example, when a patient’s oxygen saturation level is not monitored closely, the patient may go from normal saturation to abnormal, but it takes hours for the staff to record it – and by then, the patient has suffered brain trauma from a lack of oxygen.
Inability to Do Patient Bed Checks
No matter what a patient is in the hospital for, they should have regular bed checks. This can ensure everything from proper vitals to nutrition (making sure the patient is eating) to making sure the patient is actually in their bed (such as an Alzheimer’s patient wandering out of their room).
When a patient is not checked on regularly, they could suffer serious injuries. One example would be a patient with mobility issues tripping and falling in their room and not being found for several hours.
When nurses are rushed and have too many patients to manage, they still have to administer medications to their assigned patients. These assignments are made by the treating physician, but a nurse should always double-check the medication to ensure it is the right dose and proper medication for that patient (as a secondary check). Not only will a rushed nurse have no time to do that double-check, but they may accidentally make a medication error. Whether that is giving a patient the wrong dose of medication, giving them the wrong medication, or even providing medications together that are meant to be kept separate.
Medication errors can be fatal. For example, failure to give the right dosage of antibiotics could allow an infection to run rapidly, leading to septic shock and possibly death.
Failure to Communicate with Staff, Physicians, or the Patient
A nurse needs to adequately communicate with all staff, physicians, and even the patient. Miscommunication is a common cause of malpractice errors and one that is easily avoided. When a nurse has time constraints, however, they may not deliver messages to physicians on time, might not explain or receive proper consent from a patient, or they may not tell incoming nursing staff proper status updates on patients they are leaving in their care. All of these can lead to a variety of errors, from medication to vital checks being missed to a patient being left unattended for hours.
A Patient’s Rights after Suffering Malpractice – Who Is at Fault for Malpractice That Occurs from Inadequate Nursing Staff?
Is it the hospital or the nurse at fault?
When malpractice occurs, the first person held accountable is the one that made the error. However, when there are inadequate staffing issues causing these deadly mistakes, the hospital or medical facility where they occurred could be held liable as well.
If a hospital has an inadequate nurse-to-patient ratio, and a patient suffers injury or death as a result, that hospital could be found negligent. Hospitals know that they need to staff enough nurses per patient, and failing to do so means that they did not provide the acceptable standard of care expected by a patient staying in that hospital.
The victim or their loved ones may be entitled to compensation under the law. Compensation can include everything from medical expenses to lost wages to pain and suffering.
Malpractice cases are incredibly complex, especially when the defendant is a hospital. Not only are you going up against a large insurance company, but you’re also taking on a team of attorneys that handle these types of cases weekly. Therefore, you need an advocate with equal experience holding hospitals and medical facilities responsible for their actions.
Gladstein Law Firm, PLLC, can assist you with your case and serve as your advocate to ensure that you and your loved ones get the compensation you deserve. To explore your options, contact our office today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation.