What Nursing Supervisors are saying…

1 Mar

Video:  CNO of Essentia Sandra “Mac” McCarthy testifying to the House Labor, Regulated Workplace and Industries Committee on the Standards of Care Act, February 21, 2013.

Compare this to what Joe Howard, RN, at Miller-Dwan Burn Unit said:

Chairman Johnson, Members of the Committee. Thank you for this opportunity.  My name is Joe Howard.  I’ve been a Registered Nurse for 11 years, and for the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure to work in the Burn Intensive Care Unit at Miller Dwan Medical Center in Duluth. 

As a nurse in the burn unit, you can imagine I have some serious cases.  The simple act of changing a dressing is a timely but necessary procedure that can’t be overlooked, but sometimes we have to steal from Peter to pay Paul to get things done.  

For example, last Tuesday, I arrived at work and looked at the staffing schedule.  I saw that the numbers of nurses on duty appeared to be enough but no thought was given to the acuity or severity of patients.  It was clear we were short-staffed.  Also, we were down one nursing assistant.  We had dressing changes and insulin checks that we needed to do and not enough people to do them.  We finally had to request a backup nurse from the rehab unit to come in, which robbed that unit of a body.  Even with that extra person, routine procedures were missed.  I feel personally responsible that I couldn’t give the patients the best care that they should have had.

It’s an awful, awful feeling.   You have a patient who is 100 percent dependent on your care and you can’t provide that care because you don’t have enough hands.  It’s the worst feeling in the world.  It’s enough to bring a guy like me to tears.

This is nothing new.  We’ve been telling management that staffing is an issue.  We’ve filled out unsafe staffing reports.  In 2010, we thought we had finally addressed the problem.  We were able to negotiate a Letter of Understanding with our contract that addressed staffing issues, including new hires and time for education for new nurses.   But that language has fallen on deaf ears.  Part of the agreement was a grid system that would be implemented to determine staffing levels, but in two-and-a-half years, the grids that say so-many nurses should be working on so-many patients isn’t in place. 

Since then we continue to have patients who wait in the ER for three days until a bed opens up in a unit where a nurse can care for them.  We continue to have situations where two nurses are taking care of 20 patients.  And we continue to ask for more help, but we’re told there are no nurses available to come in.   Last week, I floated out to the Med/Surg unit where we learned that two nurses were in charge of 18 patients on the night shift, but  nobody on the incoming day shift had been asked to even come in early to relieve.

If you’ve ever burned yourself on a hot stove, maybe you can imagine the pain a burn victim goes through with second or third degree burns.  Once the skin grafting has taken place, the pain only continues.  So imagine the effects of understaffing to a burn victim when there aren’t enough nurses to properly administer their pain medication on time.  Imagine each extra minute they wait wallowing in agony.  It’s another minute they needlessly suffer.

This can’t continue.  If hospitals won’t listen to nurses that we’re stretched too thin to properly change dressings, then perhaps they’ll listen to you.  Perhaps they’ll honor the standards that national organizations have established to ensure that patients receive proper care. 

The standards still allow local hospitals to make staffing decisions.  The standards are different for each unit in each hospital for each situation given patient census and patient acuity.   All the standards really mandate is that if you come to my Minnesota hospital, you will receive good care.  Patients in our state deserve that.

Thank you.

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