Factsheet: Nurse to patient ratios are cost-effective

Nurses in Nova Scotia’s biggest hospitals are exhausted and floors are understaffed. That’s not safe for patients. Mandated nurse to patient ratios are a cost-effective solution.  

Better care means savings

The evidence is clear: safe RN staffing levels, especially mandated ratios, keep patients healthier and cut overall health care costs through:

  • Fewer post-discharge ER visits
  • Fewer patient falls
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Fewer hospital-contracted infections
  • Fewer deaths in hospital

The direct savings to hospitals are in the hundreds of millions. The savings to society number in the billions.[i]

Keeping nurses on the job

Capital Health spent almost $5M in RN overtime last year.[ii]  That’s enough to hire 70 new nurses.[iii] Safe staffing will mean less nurse burnout, fewer sick calls, and less overtime.

Addressing the nurse shortage

The Department of Health forecasts a gap of 800 RNs in the coming years.[iv]  Yet 20% of the nurses trained in Nova Scotia each year leave,[v] and 9% of RNs surveyed at Capital Health told us they were planning to leave the profession in the next year. Every time a nurse leaves and is replaced it costs about $25,000[vi].

Safe staffing ratios lead to better recruitment and retention of nurses, more job satisfaction and less stress[vii] – that’s what will help us to attract and keep more nurses.

Ratios are affordable

For individual hospitals in California, the costs of complying with the mandated ratios were estimated at $700,000 to $800,000 per year.[viii] Implementation costs for the entire state were estimated at $50M.[ix] California’s population is 38 times that of Nova Scotia.

Time to negotiate

NSGEU nurses on the front lines have created a proposal for safe staffing levels that are reasonable and affordable.  We’re ready to negotiate.


[i] 1From peer-reviewed studies compiled in the following factsheets:




and in the Canadian Federation of Nurses study Nursing Workload and Patient Care: Understanding the value of nurses, the effects of excessive workload, and how nurse-patient ratios and dynamic staffing models can help.

[ii] Capital Health data provided to NSGEU.

[iii] Based on Capital Health’s own cost estimate for a typical nurse hire (salary and benefits) of $70,300

[iv] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/health-care-worker-shortage-looms-as-staff-retire-1.2481428

[v] Pat Bellefontaine and Valerie Eden. Nova Scotia: Late Career Nurse and New Graduate Transition Nursing Leadership, 25(Sp) March 2012: 51-60 http://www.longwoods.com/content/22810

[vi] O’Brien-Pallas, L., G. Tomblin Murphy and J. Shamian. 2008. Understanding the Costs and Outcomes of Nurses’ Turnover in Canadian Hospitals. Nursing Turnover Study FRN#66350. Toronto: Nursing Health Services Research Unit, University of Toronto.

[vii] ANF Victoria Work/Time/Life Survey (2003) In: Gordon S et al (2008) Safety in Numbers. Nurse-to-Patient Ratios and the Future of Health Care Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 148-150.

[viii] US Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://innovations.ahrq.gov/content.aspx?id=3708

[ix] Minimum Nurse Staffing Ratios in California Acute Care Hospitals. Centre for Health Professions, University of California, San Francisco. http://beta.chcf.org/~/media/MEDIA%20LIBRARY%20Files/PDF/M/PDF%20MinNurseStaffingRatios.pdf

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