Will mandated minimum nurse staffing ratios lead to better patient outcomes?

Med Care. 2008 Jun;46(6):606-13. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3181648e5c.


Background: Mandatory hospital nurse staffing ratios are under consideration in a number of states without strong empirical evidence of the optimal ratio.

Objective: To determine whether increases in medical-surgical licensed nurse staffing levels are associated with improvements in patient outcomes for hospitals having different baseline staffing levels.

Research design: Cross-sectional and fixed-effects regression analyses using a 1993-2001 panel of patient and hospital data from California. Splines define 4 staffing ratios.

Subjects: Adult acute myocardial infarction (AMI) (n = 348,720) and surgical failure to rescue (FTR) (n = 109,066) patients discharged between 1993 and 2001 from 343 California acute care general hospitals.

Measures: Patient outcomes are 30-day AMI mortality and surgical FTR; 4 baseline staffing levels-4 to 7 patients per licensed nurse [registered nurses (RN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN)].

Results: Significant cross-sectional associations between higher nurse staffing and AMI mortality are reduced in the fixed-effects analyses. Improvements in outcomes were smaller in hospitals with higher baseline staffing: for each RN and RN + LVN increase, respectively, AMI mortality declined by 0.71 (P < 0.05) and by 2.75 percentage points for hospitals with more than 7 patients per nurse compared with 0.19 (P = NS) and 0.28 percentage points (P < 0.05) in hospitals with more than 4 patients per nurse. Significant cross-sectional associations between higher nurse staffing and FTR were not found in the fixed-effects analyses.

Conclusions: Strong diminishing returns to nurse staffing improvements and lack of significant evidence that staffing uniformly increases improve outcomes raise questions about the likely cost-effectiveness of implementing state-wide mandatory nurse staffing ratios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Mandatory Programs / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / supply & distribution*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Risk Adjustment