Nursing Staff Ratios

Nurses are responsible for the health of those under their care and are more able to ensure such care when proper guidelines are followed. One such guideline is an appropriate nursing staff ratio.

nursing staff ratios

The nursing staff ratio is the number of patients compared to the number of nurses on staff. For example, a facility with 20 nurses and 120 patients has a ratio of 20:120, or 1:6 when simplified. This means that each nurse will have to provide care to six patients. In some circumstances, that may be perfectly appropriate. In others, that nurse would be stretched far too thin and would not be able to provide satisfactory care. 

While it is understandable that a facility would want to use its nurses to their full capacity, a balance must be struck. When nurses have too many patients under their care, simple mistakes are more common. 

Providing incorrect medications or doses, missing scheduled treatments and misidentifying patients can all have fatal consequences; these situations arise more often when a nurse has too many patients under their care. Some of this can be remediated through the use of nursing aides and advanced software, but does not eliminate the problem completely. The best solution is to provide a proper patient ratio.

Nursing Staff Ratio Law

In order to strike the above-mentioned balance, many states have taken legal action to regulate the nursing staff ratio. For example, California has had a nursing staff ratio law in place for years. This law limits the number of patients a nurse can have on their caseload depending on setting. Nurses in a surgical or intensive care unit can have no more than one patient under their watch per shift. In a psychiatric unit, though, a nurse may treat up to six patients. The varying ratio depends on the urgency and intensity of care required in each setting; in general a patient in an intensive care unit will require more direct and specialized treatment than those in a psychiatric unit. Many other states have instituted laws requiring facilities to institute a committee or body to regulate the patient staff ratio. This allows for more diversity in ratio in the state while ensuring an appropriate ratio is maintained.

Average Nurse Patient Ratio

Obviously, this ratio can change depending on facility, setting, state, and shift. It can range from 1:1 for patients with more urgent and specialized needs to 1:10 for higher-level patients during the night shift, where patient needs tend to be lower. On average, a patient ratio of 1:4-6 can be expected during day shifts in all but the most serious of units. This will allow for facilities to make best use of dedicated funds while still providing adequate care to patients admitted.

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