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Understaffing of New York hospitals can lead to nursing malpractice

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Increasingly, nurses are being sued by patients for acts of medical malpractice such as the failure to assess and monitor the patient’s condition.

Health Magazine recently reported that Yale School of Medicine researchers found that, when a Connecticut hospital adequately trained its nurses-and hired one nurse to be in overall charge of patient safety practices-the number of malpractice suits dropped by 50 percent. Improving nursing care is crucial given that nurses are assuming more responsibilities for patient safety. With greater responsibility comes greater scrutiny of a nurse’s acts and omissions. observes that, 30 years ago, nurses seldom worried about being named a defendant in a medical malpractice suit. Today, a growing number of nurses find themselves being sued as a defendant in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to American Nurse Today magazine, nurses are most often sued for the following omissions:

  • Failure to follow the standards of care mandated by the hospital or health clinic.
  • Failure to use hospital equipment in a proper manner.
  • Failure to properly monitor and assess the patient’s condition.
  • Failure to communicate the patient’s condition to the treating physician.
  • Failure to document the patient’s condition and medications.

An assertion that a nurse failed to act as a patient advocate is an increasingly common negligence allegation. A nurse is under a duty to challenge a physician’s orders if he or she deems them likely to endanger the patient’s safety. For example, if a nurse believes that a physician’s medication orders or discharge orders are erroneous, he or she has an affirmative duty to challenge the doctor.

Understaffed hospitals

In some instances, nursing malpractice does not result simply because the nurse is inept. Nursing errors are often caused by hospital administrators who, watching the financial bottom line and attempting to save money, are busy downsizing the nursing staff. According to the New York State Nurses Association, staffing is at crisis levels in many New York hospitals. Emergency room nurses and nurses who assist doctors in surgery are routinely assigned more patients than they can properly handle. The Nurses Association also believes that, in too many New York hospitals, patients are left waiting in the hallways for hours because there are not enough nurses to sufficiently attend to them.

Studies have shown that the number of patients assigned to a nurse has a direct impact on the nursing staff’s ability to appropriately assess, monitor and care for patients. For example, hospitals which routinely staff with 1:8 nurse-to-patient ratios experience five additional deaths per 1,000 patients than those staffing with 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratios. Being overworked is, of course, no excuse for malpractice. The New York State Nurses Association recognizes that if a nurse sees an unsafe practice that might cause harm to a patient, the nurse is under an affirmative duty to go up the chain of command in order to call attention to that unsafe practice. Specifically, a New York nurse can fill out a Protest of Assignment form notifying the hospital of the unsafe practice. A nurse cannot remain silent.

Seeking compensation

Do not allow yourself to be the uncompensated victim of nursing medical malpractice. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing malpractice, you are advised to contact an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney experienced at handling New York medical malpractice cases can discuss the matter with you and go over the medical records. If a nurse’s negligence has caused your injury, New York law affords you the right to seek compensation from the nurse and the employer he or she worked for.

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