New MDH Report Shows Worsening Patient Impacts as Staffing, Retention Crisis Continues


Contact: Sam Fettig
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Chronic short staffing and poor retention by hospital executives contribute to more adverse events for patients

Total adverse events and those which caused harm to patients have increased for years, pandemic impacts amplified systemic issues in Minnesota hospitals

(St. Paul) – August 3, 2022 – A new report released today by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) highlights worsening patient impacts in Minnesota hospitals as the crisis of short staffing and retention continues unabated and unresolved by hospital executives. The new report documents increases in the total number of adverse events suffered by Minnesota patients in 2021, as well as in the number of events which caused harm to patients. These adverse patient impacts include pressure ulcers, commonly known as bedsores, as well as patient falls.

“Minnesota patients should be able to count on hospital executives to do everything they can to solve the crisis of care and retention and to put patients before profits in our hospitals,” said Mary C. Turner, RN, President of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “We urge hospital executives to listen to nurses and to work with us to keep nurses at the bedside with a seat at the table to address staffing, retention, and patient needs for the future.”

The report documents 508 total reported adverse events in Minnesota hospitals in 2021, a 33 percent increase from 382 incidents in 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and exposed underlying issues of short staffing by hospital executives, the issue and its impacts predate the pandemic, as the report data shows. Even before the pandemic, adverse event totals had increased over the years from a recent low of 258 in 2013, up to 366 in 2019, for a total 97 percent increase from 2013 to 2021. Similarly, adverse events causing patient harm or death jumped from 164 in 2020 up to 221 last year, an increase of 35 percent. That latest increase follows steady year-by-year growth in cases of patient harm or death from a recent low of 99 in 2013, for a total increase of 123 percent from 2013 to 2021.

“hospitals don’t get a ‘free pass’ for errors that are ultimately preventable with the right staff and safety policies in place, said Jennifer Schoenecker, associate vice president for quality and safety for the Minnesota Hospital Association.” – StarTribune, August 3, 2022

The increases in adverse events reported by MDH closely follow an increase in reports of ‘Concern for Safe Staffing’ filed by nurses in recent years. A report released by MNA nurses earlier this year documented a similarly explosive 300 percent growth in ‘Concern for Safe Staffing’ forms filed since 2014, up to a total of 7,857 in the last year. These forms document cases where nurses are concerned that short staffing may negatively impact patient care, including delays in administering medication, completing a patient assessment, or answering patient call lights.

“’The workforce shortage and the turnover, to be honest, that doesn’t help matters’ […] said Dr. Kannan Ramar, Mayo’s chief safety officer.” – StarTribune, August 3, 2022

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that higher nurse staffing levels reduce negative patient impacts. One study from 2006 found that if every hospital increased staffing levels to match the best-staffed hospitals in the country, 5,000 in-hospital patient deaths and 60,000 adverse patient events could be prevented every year. A landmark 2010 study found that higher nurse staffing levels contributed to a 10-14 percent reduction in patient deaths and fewer cases where changes in patient condition were missed.

Meanwhile, the crisis of staffing and retention in Minnesota hospitals is getting worse. While there is no shortage of nurses in Minnesota – with a record-high 120,000 currently registered here, and an increase in the number of students attending and graduating from nursing school prompted by the pandemic – nurses are being pushed away from the bedside due to the consequences of hospital executives’ corporate healthcare practices.

One recent study found that half of all nurses are considering leaving the bedside in the next year due to short staffing and moral distress. A second recent study found that over 60 percent of nurses were considering leaving the profession, a 40 percent increase from a year prior in the same survey.

The results of both new studies closely follow the results of an MNA report released earlier this year which found that 63 percent of MNA nurses had either considered leaving their position or knew someone who had within the last year, while those who did leave bedside nursing jobs in the last two years identified short staffing and poor hospital management as the driving factors.

Yesterday, as a result of these worsening conditions in Minnesota hospitals and the continued inaction of hospital executives, nurses from seven hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports announced that they had taken a vote of “No Confidence” in their hospital CEOs and other top executives as 15,000 Minnesota nurses seek new contracts to address short staffing and retention and to put Patients Before Profits in Minnesota hospitals.