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California's Minimum Nurse Staffing Legislation: Results from a Natural Experiment

Author(s): 

Barbara Mark, David Harless, Joanne Spetz, Kristin Reiter, George Pink

Date: 
Sep. 21, 2012

Objective To determine whether, following implementation of California’s minimum nurse staffing legislation, changes in acuity-adjusted nurse staffing and quality of care in California hospitals outpaced similar changes in hospitals in comparison states without such regulations.

Data Sources/Study Setting Data from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey of Hospitals, the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the Hospital Cost Report Information System, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Health Care Cost and Utilization Project’s State Inpatient Databases from 2000 to 2006.

Study Design We grouped hospitals into quartiles based on their preregulation staffing levels and used a difference-in-difference approach to compare changes in staffing and in quality of care in California hospitals to changes over the same time period in hospitals in 12 comparison states without minimum staffing legislation.

Data Collection/Extraction Methods We merged data from the above data sources to obtain measures of nurse staffing and quality of care. We used Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Patient Safety Indicators to measure quality.

Principal Findings With few exceptions, California hospitals increased nurse staffing levels over time significantly more than did comparison state hospitals. Failure to rescue decreased significantly more in some California hospitals, and infections due to medical care increased significantly more in some California hospitals than in comparison state hospitals. There were no statistically significant changes in either respiratory failure or postoperative sepsis.

Conclusions Following implementation of California’s minimum nurse staffing legislation, nurse staffing in California increased significantly more than it did in comparison states’ hospitals, but the extent of the increase

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