How Hospital Staffing Issues Can Contribute to Medical Malpractice
In hospitals and other medical care centers, medical malpractice events can occur for a variety of reasons. One key contributing factor, however, can be understaffing of critical positions like physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other vital personnel. Adequate nursing staffs, in particular, are a foundational element of patient care. Nurses provide frontline medical care in hospitals. Their responsibilities are vast and varied, including performing comprehensive patient health assessments, contributing to the overall strategy of care for patients, providing critical care and support, and advocating for patient safety. Without a well-staffed nursing team, patient care suffers.
Unfortunately, as recent years have shown, understaffing can also occur during times of patient overcrowding, which serves to exacerbate an already problematic situation. Staffing issues within hospitals have a direct correlation to the quality of care a patient receives, often increasing the likelihood of dangerous errors and oversights. In this blog, we will explore the common reasons for staffing issues and the effect they have on patient health and safety.
Reasons for Staffing Shortages
Why are hospitals and other medical institutions struggling to adequately staff key positions like nurses? Several factors have contributed to a decline in the availability of qualified nurses, thus creating staffing shortages. Our population is aging, and the baby boomer generation is now at an age where many require an increased level of care. Nurses who are part of the baby boomer generation are also now retiring, creating a large employment gap. Next, the profession of nursing can be grueling and fatiguing. Nurses tend to work long shifts and handle the care of critically ill or injured patients. These long hours and the rigorous, demanding work can take a heavy emotional and physical toll on members of the profession. For some, this can result in burnout. Some decide, even after years of education and experience, that they can no longer work as a nurse because of the impact the job is having on their life.
The Impact of COVID
The emergence of a global pandemic has severely exacerbated existing staffing issues within hospitals and other medical care facilities, creating gross overcrowding and accelerating staff burnout at a breakneck speed. Hospital systems were already facing an understaffing crisis at the beginning of the pandemic. In early 2020, as COVID began to spread, emergency and intensive care departments became overwhelmed with infected patients who were gravely ill. For many hospitals, the continued increase in patients meant making difficult decisions regarding the allocation of resources. Decisions to postpone or cancel many elective procedures in order to address the continued onslaught of COVID patients were made. Many already stressed hospitals proved ill-equipped to handle the presence of a global pandemic, despite efforts to allocate resources and staffing in order to care for sick patients. For a large number of hospitals, COVID simply served as the tipping point, highlighting many preexisting and systemic issues hospitals and their employees faced.
How Understaffing Can Result in Medical Errors
When medical care facilities, including hospitals, are not adequately staffed, patients suffer. Hospital overcrowding and understaffing can lead to employee burnout, staff resignations, and an increase in preventable medical errors. Medical teams that do not have enough team members to provide adequate patient care often face higher levels of fatigue and stress, making it difficult to execute their duties well. Understaffing can contribute to an increased rate of medical errors because medical teams are forced to reduce the amount of time they spend with each patient, feel rushed to complete their tasks, and suffer from stress and exhaustion. The repercussions to understaffing can impact the lives, health, and well-being of the patients who are under the care of these medical teams. Understaffing can result in:
- Inadequate monitoring of patients: When a patient is not properly monitored, serious consequences can occur. A nurse is typically responsible for monitoring a patient’s vitals on a regular basis. This includes things like heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. When understaffed, an irregularity in a patient’s vitals that may have indicated the need for immediate medical intervention could be overlooked.
- Failure to perform bed checks or respond to patient’s calls: Nursing staff is typically responsible for performing regular bed checks to ensure the patient’s health and well-being. When these do not occur or when nurses are unable to respond to patient calls or requests promptly, a patient may experience a serious injury or decline in their health. Patients who wait too long to receive help from a nurse may fall while trying to get out of bed on their own.
- Errors in the administration of medication: Medications are prescribed by treating physicians and, typically, nurses are responsible for administering those medications. However, in instances where they are rushed or overly exhausted, they may fail to double-check the doctor’s orders or give the wrong medication or dose altogether. Medication errors can be serious, sometimes even fatal.
- Improperly recording patient’s medical information: In hospitals, accurate medical records are vital to a patient’s recovery and treatment. When staff does not have enough team members to function properly, medical information may not be accurately or timely documented, or a patient’s record may not be thoroughly checked for pre-existing conditions or allergies before administering medication or treatment.
- Inadequate communication between members of the medical team: As is the case with most high-functioning teams, communication amongst members of a medical team is critical. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and laboratory technicians must be able to communicate quickly, efficiently, and effectively in order to provide proper patient care. Miscommunication can lead to serious but preventable medical errors like patients being left unattended or receiving incorrect medication.
When understaffing results in high nurse-to-patient ratios, nurses are unable to adequately fulfill the critical role they play in patient health, treatment, and recovery. No matter how qualified or experienced a nurse is, they simply can’t provide quality nursing care when they are stretched too thin or are too exhausted. Quality nursing care requires time, allowing the nurse to think critically and provide each patient with the individual care and attention they need. When medical teams are well-staffed, patients are much more likely to experience quality medical care. Conversely, teams that are understaffed can make critical oversights and errors that can have catastrophic consequences for the patients in their care.
Who Is Responsible for Medical Malpractice Resulting from Understaffing?
An adverse medical outcome after hospitalization or an error made by a medical professional does not always constitute grounds for a medical malpractice claim. In order for a medical error to be considered an act of medical malpractice, an act of negligence must have occurred. Negligence occurs when the services and treatment a medical professional provided fall below the standard of care established in the medical profession, and that failure, whether it occurred through their action or inaction, resulted in harm and injury to another person. When negligence occurs due to inadequate staffing, the patient who was injured or harmed may be able to file a medical malpractice claim against the medical facility and medical professionals involved.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help you determine if you experienced medical malpractice. If you were the victim of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation. In medical malpractice cases, typically, the individual or individuals who made the error would be named as a defendant in the case. In instances of understaffing, additional defendants may also be named in the claim, including the supervisor or manager of the individual who committed the malpractice, and the hospital or medical facility where the error occurred. In addition, appropriate provincial health authorities, who serve to govern and manage the organizations providing specialized health services, and regional health authorities, who serve to plan and deliver healthcare services within specified geographic areas, may also be named as defendants. In those instances, the hospital would also be accused of negligence, since the understaffing contributed to a failure to provide an acceptable level of care.
Medical malpractice cases are very complex, expensive to litigate, and usually take a considerable amount of time to reach a resolution. When hospitals are named in a medical malpractice claim, they can become even more nuanced. This means it is absolutely imperative that you find an experienced lawyer to help you navigate your claim.
Have You or a Loved One Been Impacted by Hospital Staffing Issues?
We believe it is unacceptable when patients are injured as a result of high nurse-to-patient ratios and understaffing. If you suspect you have been the victim of medical malpractice, you need to contact an experienced lawyer who can help you navigate your claim effectively. Klein Lawyers handles medical malpractice cases, has a stellar reputation, and has an outstanding track record. We understand how to identify instances of malpractice where diagnostic errors and negligence harmed innocent victims. We have the resources, knowledge, and experience Canadians need to get the justice and compensation they deserve.
We will start by conducting an in-depth investigation of the evidence in your case. We will take the time to really listen to your story, obtain and review any needed records, and thoroughly evaluate your potential claim. During the case, we will retain key medical experts to establish the critical details of the injury that occurred. We strive to make this process as easy for you as possible, shouldering as much weight as we can. Our aim is that you focus on your life, while we focus on your case.
We keep you informed throughout the entire case so you never feel like you are in the dark. We want you to understand what is going on and feel comfortable asking any questions along the way. You will know what to expect, and we will stay true to our commitment to you. Communication and transparency are important to our team, and you will recognize that as our client.
Klein Lawyers Can Help
Klein Lawyers has over 30 years of success and experience in the legal field. During that time, we have worked hard to earn the trust and respect of Canadians who need legal representation. Working with an experienced lawyer is critical, and our team understands the trust clients place in us when representing them. We value that trust and feel honoured that so many clients choose our law firm to fight for them. We are passionate about obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients. While we know it is never easy, we will not stop standing up to medical professionals who harm individuals through their negligence.
Contact Us Today
Contact the Klein Lawyers team today at (604) 874-7171 for a free consultation of your claim with a Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer. We serve clients throughout British Columbia and Canada. There’s no obligation, and your consultation is completely confidential. We are here to help victims of medical malpractice receive the justice they deserve.