BACKGROUND: Nurse-to-patient ratios in the intensive care unit are associated with postoperative mortality, morbidity, and costs after some high-risk surgery. OBJECTIVE: To determine if having 1 nurse caring for 1 or 2 patients ("more nurses") versus 1 nurse caring for 3 or more patients ("fewer nurses") in the intensive care unit at night is associated with differences in clinical and economic outcomes after hepatectomy. METHODS: Statewide observational cohort study of 569 adults who had hepatic resection, 1994 to 1998. Hospital discharge data were linked to a prospective survey of organizational characteristics in the intensive care unit. Multivariate analysis was used to determine the association of nighttime nurse-to-patient ratios with in-hospital mortality, length of stay, hospital costs, and specific postoperative complications. RESULTS: A total of 240 patients at 25 hospitals had fewer nurses; 316 patients in 8 hospitals had more nurses. No significant association between nighttime nurse-to-patient ratios and in-hospital mortality was detected. The overall complication rate was 28%. By univariate analysis, patients with fewer nurses had increased risks for pulmonary failure (5.8% vs 1.6%, relative risk, 3.6; 95% CI, 1.3-10.1; P=.006) and reintubation (10.8% vs 1.9%, relative risk, 5.7; 95% CI, 2.4-13.7; P<.001). By multivariate analysis, patients with fewer nurses had increased risk for reintubation (odds ratio, 2.9; 95% CI, 1.0-8.1; P=.04) and a 14% increase (95% CI, 3%-23%; P=.007) or an additional $1248 (95% CI, $384-$2112; P = .005) in total hospital costs. CONCLUSIONS: Fewer nurses at night is associated with increased risk for specific postoperative pulmonary complications and with increased resource use in patients undergoing hepatectomy.

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