Lighter Load for Nurses May Save Patients

A state law in California requires hospitals to maintain certain minimal levels of nurses on duty. Now a study suggests that the requirement may be saving lives.

The study, published online last month by the journal Health Services Research, compares the outcomes of 1.1 million general surgery patients in 2005-6 in more than 800 hospitals in three states – California, where nurses in medical-surgical units are limited to five patients at a time; and New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where nurses’ patient loads averaged more than six.

Researchers concluded that 225 hospital deaths in New Jersey, or 13.9 percent of all deaths in general surgery, and 200 deaths in Pennsylvania, or 10.6 percent, could have been averted with rules similar to California’s.

The lead author, Linda H. Aiken, a registered nurse …
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