Nurse Wise, Pound Foolish?

Hospital staffing is a delicate balance between patient comfort and hospital profitability. However, that ratio doesn’t always follow intuitive guidelines: In some instances, an increase in staffing can actually save money.

A recently published study indicates that when a nurse’s patient load is high enough to increase burnout, the incidence of two types of healthcare-associated infections—urinary tract infections and surgical site infections—also increases. The results in Nurse staffing, burnout, and health care-associated infection1 show the correlation between adding 1 patient to a nurse’s workload and an additional 5-7 infections per 1000 patients.

Beyond workload, the study also used a survey to measure nurse burnout. Reducing infection rates saves hospitals money – adding to the bottom line, and the authors examine the financial impact of reducing infection rates by reducing burnout. While burnout reduction measures such as optimized staffing levels, educational intervention, performance feedback, and social support all require investment, the return on that investment from reduced infection rates may be significant.

Of course, increasing nurse staffing levels and instituting or increasing other measures to reduce burnout could have additional benefits. Besides reducing infection rates and improving other patient outcomes, those actions can enhance nurses’ well-being and morale.