Background: In most multicenter studies that examine the relationship between nurse staffing and patient safety, nurse-staffing levels are measured per hospital. This can obscure relationships between staffing and outcomes at the unit level and lead to invalid inferences.
Objective: In the present study, we examined the association between nurse-staffing levels in nursing units that treat postoperative cardiac surgery patients and the in-hospital mortality of these patients. DESIGN-SETTING-PARTICIPANTS: We illustrated our approach by using administrative databases (Year 2003) representing all Belgian cardiac centers (n=28), which included data from 58 intensive care and 75 general nursing units and 9054 patients.
Methods: We used multilevel logistic regression models and controlled for differences in patient characteristics, nursing care intensity, and cardiac procedural volume.
Results: Increased nurse staffing in postoperative general nursing units was significantly associated with decreased mortality. Nurse staffing in postoperative intensive care units was not significantly associated with in-hospital mortality possibly due to lack of variation in ICU staffing across hospitals.
Conclusion: This study, together with the international body of evidence, suggests that nurse staffing is one of several variables influencing patient safety. These findings further suggest the need to study the impact of nurse-staffing levels on in-hospital mortality using nursing-unit-level specific data.