In 2005, New Jersey approved a bill requiring hospitals and nursing homes to publicly report the number of patients per nurse, according to the New Jersey Department of Health's website.
A Rutgers study found that the law, which went into effect in 2008, has led to better staffing ratios as a result.
Found in the journal "Policy, Politics and Nursing Practice," the study is the first of its kind to evaluate the public reporting requirement's effectiveness. It found that since 2008, the number of patients per nurse decreased in 10 of 13 specialty areas across New Jersey, including the neonatal intensive care unit, pediatrics and medical-surgical specialty.
“Nurse staffing, particularly for registered nurses, has been shown to have a direct impact on patient outcomes, such as rates of infection, falls, heart attacks and even death. Insufficient nurse staffing also can affect a patient’s length of stay in the hospital,” said lead researcher Dr. Pamela de Cordova, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Nursing. “By reporting and analyzing the data and ensuring that nurses are included in staffing discussions, patient outcomes can be improved.”
Hospitals are required to make public detailed information about nurse staffing levels, which includes the number of patients assigned to each staff type within sight of patients. They also must submit the information monthly to the New Jersey Department of Health, which then posts the information online.
Only five states require hospitals and nursing homes to report nurse staffing numbers, one of which includes New Jersey. De Cordova said many patients are still likely to be unaware of the information or are unable to interpret the staffing numbers. She recommends improving the data collection process to better inform patients, as well as increasing public outreach.
“Publicly available, scientifically validated information can help patients become more informed and empowered when making decisions about their health care and where to obtain it,” she said. “For nurses in New Jersey, being cognizant of this law can also empower them to choose to work in hospitals with the best staffing. Nurses can also become more knowledgeable about existing staffing policies and use that information to advocate for better quality of care for patients.”