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Patient Classification Systems Address Nurse Staffing Balance

Susan Stone, PhD, RN, and Ruth Plumb, MSN, RN, for HealthLeaders Media, May 24, 2011

Lack of awareness among many nurses about the budget process, healthcare financial management principles and how assignments are determined is a major reason for those costs. When bedside RNs are unaware of the financial role they play in managing and determining the fiscal health of their employer, nurses and administrators are pitted against each other.

To eliminate damaging infighting and wasteful spending, Sharp HealthCare, which serves 1.3 million residents of San Diego County in southwest California, has made it a priority to educate nurses how to use the patient classification system to analyze, track, and monitor staffing, productivity, and nursing budgets. Its leaders discuss the critical role that technology, patient acuity, and appropriate nurse assignments play. Every Sharp HealthCare facility shares annual financial targets and justifies its department budget. Hospital executives and RN leadership emphasize that their budget development is comparable to how RNs manage their household finances. In other words, the health system deploys the funds it has to provide care in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible. Like nurses—or anyone else—Sharp HealthCare cannot spend money it does not have.

Today, RNs understand staffing decisions are based on patients’ best interests as opposed to driven by an effort to save money at the expense of quality care. The results are fewer misunderstandings, misconceptions, and conflicts that distract Sharp HealthCare hospitals and nurses from their core clinical mission.

Sharp HealthCare sets goals for facilities partly based on the location and the size of an institution’s nursing staff. As a not for profit healthcare system, the organization’s long-term viability is dependent on its financial health and well being.

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