Nurse staffing effects on patient outcomes: safety-net and non-safety-net hospitals

Med Care. 2011 Apr;49(4):406-14. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318202e129.


Background: Nurse staffing has been linked to hospital patient outcomes; however, previous results were inconsistent because of variations in measures of staffing and were only rarely specific to types of patient care units.

Objective: To determine the relationship between nurse staffing in general and intensive care units and patient outcomes and determine whether safety net status affects this relationship.

Research design: A cross-sectional design used data from hospitals belonging to the University HealthSystem Consortium.

Subjects: Data were available for approximately 1.1 million adult patient discharges and staffing for 872 patient care units from 54 hospitals.

Measures: Total hours of nursing care [Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses, and assistants] determined per inpatient day (TotHPD) and RN skill mix were the measures of staffing; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality risk-adjusted safety and quality indicators were the outcome measures.

Results: TotHPD in general units was associated with lower rates of congestive heart failure mortality (P<0.05), failure to rescue (P<0.10), infections (P<0.01), and prolonged length of stay (P<0.01). RN skill mix in general units was associated with reduced failure to rescue (P<0.01) and infections (P<0.05). TotHPD in intensive care units was associated with fewer infections (P<0.05) and decubitus ulcers (P<0.10). RN skill mix was associated with fewer cases of sepsis (P<0.01) and failure to rescue (P<0.05). Safety-net status was associated with higher rates of congestive heart failure mortality, decubitus ulcers, and failure to rescue.

Conclusions: Higher nurse staffing protected patients from poor outcomes; however, hospital safety-net status introduced complexities in this relationship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hospitals, Teaching*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Uncompensated Care
  • United States
  • Workforce