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Polaneczky follow-up: shortage of nurses, or just the will to pay for enough of them?

November 25, 2003 -- Today Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky suggested, in a powerful follow-up to her November 17 column, that safe staffing was the key to resolving the nursing shortage.

She offered spirited support to nurses fighting to save their patients and their profession from what they see as the effects of cost cutting by hospital management.

Polaneczky noted that she had heard from a number of nurses who said the nursing "shortage" was in fact caused mainly by the unwillingness of hospitals to hire enough nurses. These nurses argue that many have been driven out of their profession by bottom-line obsessed hospital management, which in the early 1990's cut back nurse staffing and now refuses to hire adequate nursing staff, preferring to rely on forced overtime and non-nurse caregivers. But research has shown that inadequate nurse staffing markedly increases patient mortality. Meanwhile, Polaneczky pointed out, the unsafe staffing situation has itself driven more nurses from the profession and deterred the return of others; today, the ANA estimates that about 500,000 nurses are not working in the field. Studies find that when workplaces set RN-to-patient ratios low enough so that nurses can provide care that would not endanger their patients and their licenses, nurses flood back into the job market. Polaneczky noted that legislation pending in some states would prohibit mandatory overtime in health care facilities receiving Medicare, but it was unclear "whether powerful health-care lobbyists will allow it to move forward."

Polaneczky said that she considered nurses striking a local hospital for safe staffing conditions to be "heroes for taking a stand that will be in our best interest the day that we, or someone we love, needs the kind of life-saving care that only a good nurse can provide."

We salute Polaneczky for her attention to nursing issues and support for working nurses and their patients.

See Ronnie Polaneczky's article "Nurses are ready to work, but want fair staffing" in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Also see Ms. Polaneczky's Nov. 13 article Nurses make a difference: Practitioners could ease doctor shortage," her Nov. 17 article "MCP strike over standards a lesson for labor," and her Dec. 19 article "Closure spurs anger toward striking nurses" all in the Philadelphia Daily News.

For her outstanding contribution to the nursing profession, Ms. Polaneczky was awarded one of our Golden Lamp Awards, which are given annually to the best 10 portrayals of nursing in the media.

Ronnie Polaneczky may be sent letters of thanks at


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