Understaffed Hospitals in Maine Can Result in Negligent Medical Errors

Maine hospitals, nursing homes and other care providers are struggling to staff enough nurses to provide quality care to patients – something our Portland, Maine medical malpractice lawyers have seen lead to serious and even fatal medical errors. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that facilities with high patient-to-nurse ratios had higher risk-adjusted patient death and failure-to-rescue rates than those who had more nurses. Nurses who worked at poorly-staffed facilities were more likely to experience burnout, fatigue and job dissatisfaction, which also increased the number of medical errors they were prone to make.

Maine Health Care Facilities Seek Solutions to Nursing Shortage That Threatens Poor Medical Care

Recently, the Portland Press Herald reported a number of hospitals in Maine are getting creative with recruitment efforts, using staffing agencies to draw nurses from overseas, including countries like Jamaica, Nigeria and Ireland. Within the Eastern Maine Healthcare System (more recently changed to Northern Light Health) more than a dozen international nurses have been hired. More than two dozen are still working on a contract basis through a nurse staffing agency, and there is the possibility they’ll be hired by the hospital system after about two years. A dozen more are set to arrive in Maine in the coming months.

Meanwhile, other hospitals are hiring student nurses, giving them a job inside the hospital so they can “earn while you learn,” the idea being they’re more likely to stay in school and complete their degrees if they can earn a living while they’re completing their studies. Summer internships at Maine General, meanwhile, pay student nurses to shadow those working in nursing homes, cancer care units and surgical centers so they are exposed to a wide range of specialties within their field. The same facility allows nurses time to take on quality improvement projects, such as tackling a unit’s problem with patient falls or bedsores, paying them $3,500 to $5,000 upon completion.

In other areas, hospital systems across Maine are paying people an hourly wage plus benefits to attend a two-month course to become certified as nursing assistants, at which point they can step into those roles (for which there is also a shortage) and earn more to pursue a nursing degree.

The University of Maine System also recently announced its plan to double enrollment within its nursing school program to 3,800 students, and the Maine College of Health Professions is spending on marketing its two-year associate degree program, as well as reducing the amount of time medics in the military need to return to school in order to become registered nurses – shaving off the whole first year of college in exchange for completion of a 10-week course.

However, even with all this, the chief nursing officer at Maine Medical Center says they’re hoping it will “help a little bit.”

How Insufficient Numbers of Nurses Hurt Patients

When there aren’t enough nurses in a given facility, Portland medical malpractice lawyers know that’s when we’ll begin seeing more medical errors due to breakdowns in communication, rushing to complete all duties, stress, fatigue and not enough time with patients. Time and again, it’s been proven these result in:

  • Lack of critical patient monitoring;
  • Errors in medication;
  • Failures to properly record patient information;
  • Lack of responsiveness to patient needs, even in emergency situations.

It’s important to understand that Maine courts weighing the applicable standard of medical care will take into account things like regional nursing shortages to determine what was reasonable and prudent action for a medical professional in the same or similar circumstances.

If you are the victim medical malpractice in Portland, Maine, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Maine schools, hospitals consider creative tactics to recruit nurses, Oct. 1, 2018, By Lindsay Tice, Press Herald

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