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HPS LEGAL ALERT: WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF HOSPITAL STAFFING SHORTAGES?

By Richard B. Schwamm

December 5, 2022

Hospitals have a responsibility to provide an adequate number of nurses and physicians on staff at all times in order to provide the appropriate level of care to a patient during their stay. Agencies like the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, Department of Health, and accrediting organizations like the Joint Commission impose obligations on hospitals to ensure patient safety.

As numerous media outlets have reported, hospitals in Florida and around the United States are in real trouble now because of staffing shortages. These shortages are a function of many factors, some within the control of the hospitals’ business leaders, and some a function of outside challenges facing our healthcare system.

Staffing Shortages – What Hospitals Can Control

Hospital Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operating Officers and other lead decision-makers make critical funding decisions which impact pay scales for staff, equipment purchases, and other financial resources, in order to provide adequate healthcare. It is clear that profit for the hospitals is a paramount concern, and the hospitals are forced to balance their desire for higher profits with their promise to patients to provide appropriate medical care. As it relates to staffing, hospitals are encountering difficulty, to some extent by their own design, in retaining “good” staff to take care of patients.

Staffing Shortages – What Hospitals Cannot Control

The difficulty of dealing with the global COVID pandemic has obviously had an ongoing impact on staffing shortages at hospitals. There are also now more employment options for people with healthcare backgrounds, jobs where they might encounter less stress, provide more flexibility, and fewer hours. The resulting healthcare staffing exodus has led to burnout amongst the remaining nurses and physicians alike.

The Staffing Shortage Impact

One the most damaging consequences of hospital staffing shortages is the negative impact on patient care. Obviously, fewer and less-qualified doctors and nurses cannot provide quality healthcare that will meet patient’s needs and that leads to an increase in medical errors. We’ve seen this both in larger geographic areas that have a high volume of emergency room visits and higher acuity of needs in patients with significant illnesses, as well as in more rural areas. We’ve also handled many medical malpractice cases in which nursing staff shortages have led to “too few” nurses taking care of “too many” patients, leading to missed examinations, nurses not reporting changes in the patients’ condition to the physicians, and the lack of proper care to seriously ill patients that require better medical care.

Key Takeaways

There is no question that the increase in healthcare industry staffing shortages has led to an increase in medical malpractice cases. The attorneys and medical professionals of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm have extensive experience uncovering situations where staffing shortages have directly and negatively impacted the patient’s outcome. If you have a potential medical malpractice case and are interested in learning more about your options, please contact Richard Schwamm, or any member of our legal team to discuss.