Nurse staffing study doesn't answer patient safety questions


How many nurses does it take to effectively care for patients in Minnesota hospitals? That's the question at the heart of a study that's been conducted over the past 18 months by the state health department. After all that time, the answer is, "we don't know."

Not only is the issue important for patients, it was a central negotiating point between the state's nurses and hospitals in their contentious contract talks in 2010. Nurses argued that patients have better outcomes – are less likely to fall or suffer complications, for example – when more nurses are on duty and can give more attention to each patient.

The nurses union didn't win that argument in the 2010 contract talks, and even walked off the job for a day. But in 2013 the Legislature ordered the health department to study the correlation between nurse staffing levels and patient outcomes.

The results were reported to lawmakers last week without a definitive answer, because most hospitals didn't provide the necessary numbers to the researchers, according to the Associated Press.

The Minnesota Nurses Association criticized the hospitals for not turning over the necessary information, the Star Tribune reports.

But the hospitals responded that they simply didn't collect the kind of detailed numbers that were being called for.

The health department instead looked at existing research and determined that higher nurse staffing has been associated with better patient outcomes, according to the Star Tribune.

But it doesn't go so far as to prove there's a cause and effect, Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger wrote in a letter to legislators last week.

The results “do not identify points at which staffing levels become unsafe or begin to have negative effects on outcomes,” Ehlinger wrote, according to the Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Hospital Association notes that patients are cared for by many different medical professionals, not just nurses, so the impact of nursing staff levels on patient outcomes is hard to measure.

The nurses union counters, however, that patient care has suffered because of lower nurse staffing.

"In 2014, Minnesota nurses documented 2,148 instances of unsafe staffing with the potential to substantively impact patient care. Even one such instance would be concerning—but even scarier is that the reported rate of unsafe staffing has doubled over the past three years." 

The nurses' contract will be up next year, and it's unclear how the new report will affect those negotiations.

Next Up

Sen. Julia Coleman

'No one's business': State senator calls out attack on her pregnancy

Sen. Julia Coleman represents Minnesota's District 47.

Willmar Police Department

'Errant bullet' goes through garage wall, kills Willmar man

The man was working in his garage when he was shot, witnesses said.

Screen Shot 2021-01-16 at 10.59.00 PM

Wild tie Kings with 2 seconds left, win in overtime

Another incredible finish for the Wild.

Screen Shot 2021-01-16 at 6.53.17 PM

Mike Lindell's MyPillow offering discounts using the code 'Qanon'

The Shakopee-based company is under the microscope because of the recent actions of its owner.

Surly Brewing

Facing aluminum can shortage, Surly unveils solution: 'Cantyhose'

The brewery came up with a creative way to repurpose unused cans.

Liam Robbins

Gophers stay perfect at home by crushing 7th-ranked Michigan

Liam Robbins and Marcus Carr were too much for the previously undefeated Wolverines.

police lights

Four teens arrested over robberies in Minneapolis

They teens were found in a vehicle that was taken during an earlier carjacking.

Boundary Waters/BWCA

All BWCA visitors will now have to watch three 'Leave No Trace' videos

Visitors left an "unacceptably high amount" of damage last year.


Ten fatal overdoses in past 6 weeks reported in region of northern MN

Law enforcement agencies have issued a plea to the general public.