The July 24th, 2007 issue of the New York Times Health Section discusses recent findings indicating that a lower nurse-to-patient ratio leads to more patients on respirators getting pneumonia.
One of the Swiss researchers who performed the study (involving 936 patients) said that with fewer nurses, each nurse has a larger workload to shoulder and therefore has less ability to properly follow all hygiene-related rules. Patients should be aware how staffing problems can affect their standard of care.
This issue has drawn the attention of legislators. For instance, California has passed a law mandating a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio, with the support of the nurses' union. It has also received attention on a national scale, including from Congress--for example, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois introduced a bill to set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals.