A statewide survey of registered nurses in New Jersey found understaffing is a common problem in the state's hospitals and health care workplaces.

More than 40 percent of responding nurses said they were unable to provide proper patient care at some point due to understaffing; a similar number said staffing has gotten worse over the past few years.

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The survey, commissioned by the state's largest union of nurses and health care workers, indicated nurse understaffing appears to be more severe in hospitals that have recently undergone a merger or sale.

"There's plenty of people interested in the field," explained Ann Twoley, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees. "Nurses who have graduated from school and have recently retained their license are having a hard time getting a job because there's been a cutback at hospitals in terms of staffing."

State law currently allows hospitals to set their own "acuity" systems for defining staffing levels, according to an HPAE press release.

Wednesday's survey was joined by a push for the passage of reintroduced legislation that would implement mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing levels at New Jersey medical facilities. HPAE also called for the "strengthening of standards, inspections and enforcement by the NJ Department of Health over hospital mergers and sales, and staffing and quality."

The state Department of Health responded with the following statement:

The Department of Health will review any material submitted by the union. We continue to maintain an active survey and inspection oversight program - including review of staffing levels. This program assures that the quality of care in our hospitals in monitored and maintained."