New law in New York requires nursing homes to disclose the nurse-to-patient ratio.

Nurse-to-patient ratios at nursing homes are associated with the frequency of patient injuries. It's real simple: the fewer nurses, the higher the rate of injuries.

A series of studies from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found "significant associations between lower levels of nurse staffing and higher rates of pneumonia, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, shock/cardiac arrest, urinary tract infection and failure to rescue."  Studies have shown that a low ratio of nurses to patients, such as one to five, reduces patient deaths, allows nurses to spend more time with each patient and helps keep experienced nurses on the job.

In 1999, California was the first state in the nation that enacted a law with minimum nurse-to-patient ratio of one to five.  When the California law was phased in between 2004 and 2008, the results were predictable: there are fewer nurses missing changes in patient conditions, the nurses are far more likely to stay at bedside and there is less burnout resulting in higher nurse retention.  Before the law, it was common to find a single nurse in charge of 8, 10 or 12 or more patients on a shift.

What is the nurse-to-patient ratio at your nursing home?  How many of the care providers are registered nurses?  Now you can ask those questions and the nursing home is required to tell you in New York.

On March 15, 2010, a new law, known as the Nursing Care Quality Protection Act (Public Health Law section 2805-t) went into effect in New York that requires hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and diagnostic and treatment centers to make nurse-to-patient ratios available to the public.  The law also requires health facilities to report adverse events, which may reveaL facilities where staffing shortages contribute to higher rates of medical errors.

You now have the right to know how nursing homes and hospitals are staffing their units. The law also requires nursing homes and hospitals to report the number of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) providing direct care, the ratio of full-time nurses to patients, the number of unlicensed workers providing direct care, and information on complaints filed against the nursing home and nursing home staffing policies.

What's the catch, you might ask? The information will not be collected or publicized by the state. The law requires nursing homes and hospitals to make the information available to any member of the public who requests it, You can access the data by contacting the nursing homes and hospitals.

The federal government also publishes information about nurse-to-patient ratios at nursing homes at www.medicare.gov/NHCompare.

Are you concerned about the quality of care that will be provided to your loved one in a nursing home?  Take steps to find out which nursing home is truly the best by learning the nurse-to-patient ratio at the nursing homes in your area.