What Can I Do When Nurse Staffing Shortages Result in Patient Care Concerns?Oct. 4, 2022
By Melissa Heinlein, Esq.
For nearly ten years I have been representing Minnesota nurses, including RNs, LPNs, and CNAs, who describe their work environments as hectic, under-staffed, and poorly supervised. Too frequently this is how nurses describe their work environments at our Minnesota nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. You nurses have a demanding job, both physically and emotionally. I appreciate your work and want to be sure that you are protecting both your patients and your license.
If you have chosen to work in nursing, chances are that you are strong, patient, and fueled by compassion. Unfortunately, chances are also that you are exhausted, under-appreciated, and ready for a long, hot bath. Additionally, understaffed work environments can be a recipe for mistakes, including medication errors, improper documentation, accidental patient harm, or incompatibility with other staff. At most healthcare facilities, the risk for error has only been compounded since the COVID-19 pandemic by even more drastic staffing shortages and additional mandatory disease prevention precautions. Sometimes, a mistake, even if ultimately due to lack of adequate staffing or support, can land nurses in trouble with their employer, the Board of Nursing, or even the Minnesota Department of Health.
If you are working at a facility where you feel the patients may be at risk, you may have a duty to report your concerns to the Minnesota Department of Health Office of Health Facilities or the Minnesota Board of Nursing. Remember, when you became licensed, you became a mandatory reporter pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 626.556 and § 626.557. In some circumstances, you may be obligated to speak up about an incident resulting in patient harm regardless of fault. This may include disclosing troubling working conditions not only to ensure patient safety, but also to protect yourself from any further potential liability.
Unfortunately, many nurses faced with challenging work environments eventually make a mistake. This could result in termination from employment and/or being served with allegations from the Minnesota Board of Nursing. In fact, if you are terminated or resign from a nursing job, the facility is almost always required to report it to the Minnesota Board of Nursing pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 148.263 Subd.2., which will result in an investigation into your practice by the nursing board. While the Board of Nursing recognizes that some working environments are more challenging than others, they still expect that their nurses will recognize and report situations that are unsafe for both patients and nurses. More times than I can count, clients wish they would have called me sooner for a consultation on how to handle concerns with an incident that occurred at work and the challenges presented by poor nurse staffing ratios.
If you have a question about whether you should report a facility or provider, or if you receive a letter of allegations from the Minnesota Board of Nursing or the Department of Human Services, call us at 612-333-LORD (5673) for a free consultation or send us a message. At Lord + Heinlein, we are your powerful legal voice.