Association of Registered Nurse Staffing With Mortality Risk of Medicare Beneficiaries Hospitalized With Sepsis

JAMA Health Forum. 2022 May 27;3(5):e221173. doi: 10.1001/jamahealthforum.2022.1173. eCollection 2022 May.


Importance: Sepsis is a major physiologic response to infection that if not managed properly can lead to multiorgan failure and death. The US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that hospitals collect data on core sepsis measure Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock Management Bundle (SEP-1) in an effort to promote the early recognition and treatment of sepsis. Despite implementation of the SEP-1 measure, sepsis-related mortality continues to challenge acute care hospitals nationwide.

Objective: To determine if registered nurse workload was associated with mortality in Medicare beneficiaries admitted to an acute care hospital with sepsis.

Design setting and participants: This cross-sectional study used 2018 data from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey, CMS Hospital Compare, and Medicare claims on Medicare beneficiaries age 65 to 99 years with a primary diagnosis of sepsis that was present on admission to 1 of 1958 nonfederal, general acute care hospitals that had data on CMS SEP-1 scores and registered nurse workload (indicated by registered nurse hours per patient day [HPPD]). Patients with sepsis were identified based on 29 International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) codes. Data were analyzed throughout 2021.

Exposures: SEP-1 score and registered nurse staffing.

Main outcomes and measures: The patient outcome of interest was mortality within 60 days of admission. Hospital characteristics included number of beds, ownership, teaching status, technology status, rurality, and region. Patient characteristics included age, sex, transfer status, intensive care unit admission, palliative care, do-not-resuscitate order, and a series of 29 comorbid diseases based on the Elixhauser Comorbidity Index.

Results: In total, 702 140 Medicare beneficiaries (mean [SD] age, 78.2 [8.7] years; 360 804 women [51%]) had a diagnosis of sepsis. The mean SEP-1 score was 56.1, and registered nurse HPPD was 6.2. In a multivariable regression model, each additional registered nurse HPPD was associated with a 3% decrease in the odds of 60-day mortality (odds ratio, 0.97; 95% CI 0.96-0.99) controlling for SEP-1 score and hospital and patient characteristics.

Conclusions and relevance: The results of this cross-sectional study suggest that hospitals that provide more registered nurse hours of care could likely improve SEP-1 bundle compliance and decrease the likelihood of mortality in Medicare beneficiaries with sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Nurses*
  • Sepsis* / diagnosis
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Workforce