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Association of nurse staffing and unit occupancy with mortality and morbidity among very preterm infants: a multicentre study


Objective In a healthcare system with finite resources, hospital organisational factors may contribute to patient outcomes. We aimed to assess the association of nurse staffing and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) occupancy with outcomes of preterm infants born <33 weeks’ gestation.

Design Retrospective cohort study.

Setting Four level III NICUs.

Patients Infants born 23–32 weeks’ gestation 2015–2018.

Main outcome measures Nursing provision ratios (nursing hours worked/recommended nursing hours based on patient acuity categories) and unit occupancy rates were averaged for the first shift, 24 hours and 7 days of admission of each infant. Primary outcome was mortality/morbidity (bronchopulmonary dysplasia, severe neurological injury, retinopathy of prematurity, necrotising enterocolitis and nosocomial infection). ORs for association of exposure with outcomes were estimated using generalised linear mixed models adjusted for confounders.

Results Among 1870 included infants, 823 (44%) had mortality/morbidity. Median nursing provision ratio was 1.03 (IQR 0.89–1.22) and median unit occupancy was 89% (IQR 82–94). In the first 24 hours of admission, higher nursing provision ratio was associated with lower odds of mortality/morbidity (OR 0.93, 95% CI 0.89 to 0.98), and higher unit occupancy was associated with higher odds of mortality/morbidity (OR 1.19, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.36). In causal mediation analysis, nursing provision ratios mediated 47% of the association between occupancy and outcomes.

Conclusions NICU occupancy is associated with mortality/morbidity among very preterm infants and may reflect lack of adequate resources in periods of high activity. Interventions aimed at reducing occupancy and maintaining adequate resources need to be considered as strategies to improve patient outcomes.

  • Neonatology
  • Health Care Economics and Organizations
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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