Patient Safety and WFM

by | Sep 2, 2011

Think that these two subjects are only peripherally related? Then you haven’t been following a recent storyline about the California Nurses Association, a union affiliated with other nurses unions around the country. In June, they announced their intentions to hold a one day strike on June 10. This was coordinated with another group of nurses in Minnesota to strike the same day. Together they planned to have around 24,000 nurses walk out, resulting in what was reported to possibly be “the largest registered nursing strike in the country’s history”, per the San Francisco Chronicle.


That strike was stopped by a judge issuing a temporary restraining order, saying that it was not in the public’s interest. The Minnesota union approved a new contract, ending that strike threat and the CNA (yes, that’s an unfortunate abbreviation for the union!) has since stated that they will continue to find ways to advocate for patient safety. Seems straightforward enough, right? Well, if you drill into a little bit, hidden in those articles is the heart of what the union wanted changed as they advocated for patient safety: staffing ratios. They wanted their management to put more nurses on the floor for each patient. Of course, the impact to patient safety is obvious – more nurses equal less opportunities for bad things to unintentionally happen to patients.


In addition, they wanted to make sure their management accounted for breaks and lunches – so patients would have uninterrupted care. And they wanted to highlight that many of their shifts were were short staffed with the existing ratios, resulting in overworked, overstressed nurses who were more likely to make mistakes. In other words, what it sounds like to me they really want is: (1) better scheduling processes (and maybe systems?) which ensure there are appropriate numbers of staff working based on real-time patient flow and (2) their management realizes that staffing processes are directly impacting patient care and so it is taken more seriously.


See it now? Patient safety and WFM go hand. Scheduling and staffing processes put nurses on the floor – Nurses who interact with patients when they are on the floor – Patients who don’t get care when there are not enough nurses to go around. What lesson can we learn from this little drama? Even nursing unions know that scheduling and staffing dont get the attention they deserve. However, waving a big red flag for “patient care” is certainly a good way to get the attention of anyone in healthcare leadership. Think about that the next time you are working to prove ROI for a scheduling system.

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