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Nursing Shortage: Understaffing in NICU Increases Infection Rates

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, June 25th, 2013

Nurse understaffing is widespread in U.S. neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and linked with higher rates of infection, a new study reports.

Researchers looked at data from more than 11,000 infants with very low birth weights who spent at least three days in NICUs in the United States in 2008 and 2009. They also examined data on NICU staffing levels of registered nurses.

Nurse understaffing occurred for 32% of all infants in NICUs and for 85% of infants who required higher levels of care, according to the study published online March 18 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

On average, meeting minimum national staffing guidelines would require an additional 0.11 of a nurse per infant overall and an additional 0.39 of a nurse for each infant requiring a higher level of care, said Jeannette Rogowski, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway, and colleagues in a journal news release.

The study also found that infection rates for very low birth weight infants in NICUs were 16.5% in 2008 and 13.9% in 2009. The higher the levels of understaffing, the greater the risk of infection. While this study showed an association between nurse staffing in NICUs and infant infections, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

This is yet another indication that more nurses need to be recruited into the field, and why we all need to do our part to ease the nursing shortage.

To learn strategies for nurse recruitment, nurse retention, bringing self care to your facility and how to increase work life balance for nurses and healthcare professionals, go to SelfCare for HealthCare. CONTACT ME DIRECTLY to talk about customizing this powerful program for your employees.

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