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Study finds more hospital-related infection due to burned-out nurses
by Staff Minority Nurse Writer
Two kinds of hospital-acquired infections—catheter-associated urinary tract infections and surgical site infections—have been on the rise, according to a new study. The research shows that the busy schedule and heavy workload of nurses were contributing factors to the rise in these infections.
According to an NBC news report, heavy patient loads and chronic burnout have long been among the top complaints of bedside nurses. The Maslach Burnout Inventory—a well-known scale that measures factors like emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and sense of personal accomplishment—showed more than one-third of nurses reported levels of job-related burnout.
Researchers from the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that for every extra patient added to a nurse's workload, there was about one additional hospital-acquired infection per 1,000 patients.
Also, according to a study in the American Journal of Infection Control, for each 10% jump in the proportion of nurses who reported higher levels of "burnout," about one additional catheter-associated infection and two surgical site infections were found per 1,000 patients.
The nurses in the study, on average, cared for 5.7 patients each; a number that, if reduced, could help eliminate nurse burnout, and thus cut back the number of infections. The report states that reducing nurse burnout by 30% would cut urinary tract infections by more than 4,000 and surgical site infections by more than 2,200, which would save $28–$69 million per year in estimated costs to treat those infections in patients.
Previous research also supports the conclusions reached in this most recent study. Another University of Pennsylvania study found that adding a single patient to a nurse's workload increased the risk of dying within a week by 7%. Additionally, a 2010 study found that patient deaths in New Jersey and Pennsylvania would drop 14% each if those states adopted California's mandated nurse-to-patient ratio of one to five in surgical units.
The NBC News report stated that some hospitals in the United States have worked hard to address these kinds of issues. Nearly 400 hospitals have achieved so-called "magnet" status, which recognizes health care organizations that achieve structural and clinical practices that empower nurses and lead to good patient results.
Neither the American Nurses Association nor the American Hospital Association tracks statistics on nationwide patient loads, which can vary from as low as one or two patients per nurse to more than five per nurse.