Infants in Drug Withdrawal: A National Description of Nurse Workload, Infant Acuity, and Parental Needs

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Abstract

Infants in drug withdrawal have complex physiological and behavioral states, requiring intensive nursing care. The study objectives were to describe acuity, parental needs, and nurse workload of infants in drug withdrawal compared with other infants. The design was cross-sectional and involved secondary nurse survey data from 6045 staff nurses from a national sample of 104 neonatal intensive care units. Nurses reported the care of 15 233 infants, 361 (2.4%) of whom were in drug withdrawal. Three-fourths of hospitals had at least 1 infant in drug withdrawal. In these hospitals, the mean number of infants in drug withdrawal was 4.7. Infant acuity was significantly higher among infants in drug withdrawal. Parents of infants in drug withdrawal required significantly more care to address complex social situations (51% vs 12%). The number of infants assigned to nurses with at least 1 infant in withdrawal (mean = 2.69) was significantly higher than typical (mean = 2.51). Given infant acuity and parental needs, policies legislating patient-to-nurse ratios should permit professional discretion on the number of patients to assign nurses caring for infants in drug withdrawal. Managers and charge nurses should consider the demands of caring for infants in drug withdrawal in assignment decisions and provide support and education.

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