Hospitals and clinics can be understaffed for a number of reasons. Temporary understaffing may occur when several employees are ill, on vacation, or using FMLA leave. Chronic understaffing is often a result of mounting costs and expenses or an inability to find qualified workers in the local labor pool.
Regardless of the reason for understaffing, an insufficient number of doctors, nurses, and other care providers can have a negative effect on the quality of care patients receive. Sometimes, errors may occur that meet the standard of medical malpractice.
Examples of Medical Malpractice Related to Understaffing
California is the only state to adopt minimum mandatory staffing ratios, citing research that indicates higher ratios are associated with lower rates of post-surgical infection, reduced falls, and fewer patient readmissions. All other states, including Louisiana, allow each facility to decide how many care providers should be working at any given time. Thus, there is no official definition of understaffing. The term simply means that a facility is operating with a less than optimal number of employees.
Understaffing can relate to any position at a hospital or clinic, including doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, therapists, and techs. However, an insufficient number of nurses or nursing assistants is the most problematic because these individuals are the "front line" of medical care—administering medication, changing wound dressings, taking vital signs, documenting patient symptoms, and assessing patient needs.
When a facility is understaffed, the available care providers may focus on treating patients with the most urgent needs. This means, basic tasks that prevent serious complications are more likely to be ignored or performed poorly. Some actions that may constitute malpractice include:
- Failing to monitor a patient's vital signs adequately
- Failing to follow sanitation procedures that prevent infections
- Neglecting to obtain informed consent before a procedure
- Skipping a follow-up to make sure treatment is having the intended result
Mistakes may also be made when an insufficient number of care providers are trying to monitor too many patients. These errors can occur because a provider is rushed and/or fatigued. Errors of this type might include:
- Giving a patient the wrong dosage of medication
- Giving a patient an incorrect medication
- Misdiagnosing a condition due to a rushed examination
- Incorrectly reading the results of a diagnostic test
In the most severe cases, malpractice caused by understaffing might relate to a denial of care. A facility with insufficient providers may be forced to turn patients away, leading to allegations of patient abandonment.
Filing a Claim for Medical Malpractice
It is not enough to simply believe that you've been harmed by treatment from an understaffed facility. You must be able to prove the following four elements:
The healthcare provider had a professional duty of care or existing doctor/patient relationship with you.
Breach of Duty.
The provider did not deliver care consistent with widely recognized treatment standards for your illness or injury.
Your condition worsened, or you experienced other medical complications.
Your damages were the direct result of the provider's conduct and can't be attributed to some other cause.
If you can establish all of the necessary elements of a malpractice claim, your settlement can include compensation for:
- Medical expenses necessary to treat the condition caused by malpractice
- Anticipated future medical needs, if you've been left permanently disabled as a result of the malpractice
- Lost wages, if you missed work due to a malpractice-related injury
- Loss of future earning potential, if a malpractice-related disability will prevent you from returning to work
- Pain and suffering, including physical discomfort as well as emotional trauma
Hospitals and clinics have a team of lawyers working to minimize liability for medical malpractice. If you believe you've been harmed by poor quality care related to understaffing, it's in your best interest to seek representation from an experienced malpractice attorney.
The experienced medical malpractice legal team of Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to advocating for the rights of Louisiana residents. Contact us online or call our Alexandria office directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.