The link between nurse stress and patient outcomes has been a source of concern for years. And today, with the enormous impact of the pandemic, that connection is more important than ever.
Among its many effects on the healthcare system, Covid-19 has driven up the impact of burnout and compassion fatigue among nurses. Reports have shown that more nurses than usual have dropped out of the workforce as a result. And this all comes at a time when an ongoing nurse staffing shortage is hitting many facilities and care providers particularly hard.
Fewer nurses in the workforce also mean higher stress for those who remain. And for those nurses, the increased level of stress they’re experiencing could negatively affect the job they’re doing. And that, in turn, means patient outcomes are likely to suffer, as well.
Exploring the Connection between Nurse Stress and Patient Outcomes
As the authors of a 2017 study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences pointed out, the US Occupational Safety and Health Institute has ranked nursing 27th on a list of 130 professions “regarding work-related mental health problems.”
“In fact,” they add, “as a demanding job requiring high skill, constant alertness, strong team collaboration, and the provision of 24-hour care, nursing creates a lot of job stress in nurses who are constantly faced with many physical and psychological stressors at work.”
Healthcare organizations with a high level of stress among their nurses may be faced with a higher risk of “absenteeism and turnover, both of which detract from the quality of care,” writes Bonnie M. Jennings in “Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses.”
In addition to experiencing a lower number of fatal hospital stays, patients in a hospital with a better nurse work environment were also less likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit, according to a critical care study from December 2021.
The authors of a 2019 study published in AACN Advanced Critical Care (ACC) put the data in even stronger terms: “Patients in hospitals with good work environments had 16% lower odds of intensive care unit admission and 15% lower odds of mortality or intensive care unit admission than patients in hospitals with mixed or poor environments.”
With all this in mind, what can employers do to reduce the level of stress experienced by the nurses they employ? And what services are available to help maintain the difficult balance between nurse stress and patient outcomes?
Nurse Stress and Patient Outcomes: How Staffing Services Can Help
For employers, then, offsetting nurse stress can lead to some pretty clear positive results, including a lower rate of ICU admissions and lower rates of in-facility fatalities. And the solution begins with offering a better work environment for nurses and other clinical workers.
Because a high level of nurse stress can come from occupational concerns, and because Covid-19 has accelerated these concerns, some immediate workplace improvements can and should be put in place right away.
“Special interventions to promote mental well-being in health care workers exposed to Covid-19 need to be immediately implemented, with women, nurses, and frontline workers requiring particular attention,” as the authors of a 2020 report published by the JAMA Network wrote.
As nurse stress is a factor in burnout and compassion fatigue, employers can help combat these factors using some of the same methods. As we pointed out in our report on compassion fatigue, the “best path forward is through enhanced communication and outreach,” as well as a few best practices like:
- Offering up dedicated space (and maybe some coffee, tea or snacks) to give nurses a comfortable place to not just take a break but decompress and relax
- Promoting self-care centered on proper sleep, healthy nutrition, proper physical activity, relaxation and social interaction
- Implementing a “buddy-up” program to help nurses “check in” with one another, looking for signs of burnout in their colleagues
- Offering education and counseling resources, and make sure that staff knows about them
- Scheduling with care by honoring as much as possible requests for personal time, the need to tend to loved ones at home or the need for sabbaticals
- Letting nurses know it’s okay to ask for help, whether among managers or a mentor or elder nurse
- Enlisting the help of a healthcare recruitment and staffing firm to give your facility access to more workers
Regarding that last point, there are a number of ways that partnering with a recruitment and staffing firm can be a powerful solution to the challenge of nurse stress and patient outcomes. By giving yourself access to more workers, including travel nurses and per diem nurses, you’ll have more resources at hand to give current staff the time off they deserve and need.
Healthcare staffing services can also help make sure you’re more evenly staffed during busy times of the year like flu season or the holidays. It can also help you meet important nurse-to-patient ratios in other parts of your facility. Some staffing partners may also be able to offer additional process improvements like vendor management, managed services, or more automated systems for billing or scheduling.
All of this can help raise the quality of workplace satisfaction for regular staff nurses. And it can also boost efficiencies in a way that contributes to lower expenses and other operational benefits. You can read more about the benefits of healthcare staffing and recruitment here.
“By turning toxic work environments into healthy workplaces, researchers and nurse leaders believe that improvements can be realized in recruitment and retention of nurses, job satisfaction for all health care staff, and patient outcomes — particularly those related [to] patient safety,” as Jennings writes.
CareerStaff Can Help
During this challenging time, CareerStaff Unlimited is proud to offer the healthcare staffing services you need to make sure you’re meeting your patient safety goals. Contact us today to find out how to leverage our nationwide network of skilled, trained, and motivated professionals, or submit a staffing request now.