Nursing Blogs

Patient Sets His Bed on Fire to Get Nurse’s Attention


John King was an inpatient at AdventHealth New Smyrna Beach in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, who had felt ignored by hospital staff. To remedy the “lack of care” he was receiving, he found a way to force staff members to turn their attention to him: He lit his hospital bed on fire.

The room immediately filled with smoke, posing a danger to King and the other patients. The situation finally calmed down when authorities apprehended King as he was running for the elevators to escape, but this just goes to show you how troublesome some patients can be when they feel their needs aren’t being met.

Learn more about this outrageous story and how to make sure your patients feel seen.

Desperate for the Nurse’s Attention

According to local news reports, King, who ironically was being treated for respiratory failure, wanted nurses to bring him his clothes. At the time, however, they were checking up on King’s roommate. Soon after the nurses left the room, he lit a small object next to his bed on fire using a lighter. His roommate later told authorities that he told King to put out the fire – which King did – but several moments later, he relit the fire and it quickly got out of control.

The roommate started yelling as the room filled with smoke. One of the nurses on staff soon saw the flames and ran to the nurse’s station to dial 9-1-1. While she called for help, another nurse went into the room with a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. King’s roommate said he couldn’t breathe as the room filled with smoke. As they tried to put out the fire, they saw King running for the elevator in his hospital gown trying to escape.

Authorities quickly apprehended him and forced him to surrender the lighter. He was then arrested and charged with arson. According to official statements, King wasn’t trying to hurt himself or his roommate. He just wanted his clothes.

Juggling Patients as a Nurse

Obviously, this situation doesn’t reflect the everyday experiences of most nurses, but we can still learn something from the story. Some patients misbehave to gain the attention of care providers just for the sake of gaining attention. Nevertheless, you still need to make sure you’re responding to the needs of your patients, which can be a challenge if you’re caring for dozens of patients at once.

Some facilities must adhere to strict patient-nurse staffing ratios, but others can be less predictable. Ratios also vary by department and care setting. For example, in the operating room, there must be one nurse for every patient, but what about everyday care settings? There is currently no nationally suggested patient-nurse staffing ratio, leaving many facilities to figure it out for themselves.

As a care provider, you should focus on the most urgent requests for care, but if a patient needs their clothes or makes another innocuous request, how can you be sure they won’t set their bed on fire? Use these tips to help make sure these kinds of disruptive incidents don’t happen in your workplace:

  • Facilities can start experimenting with different patient-nurse staffing ratios until they find the optimal balance. If some patients aren’t being supervised as much as they should be or there’s simply too much ground to cover, administrators should consider adding a few extra nurses to each shift.
  • Mandatory psych evaluations for incoming patients can also help reduce these kinds of incidents. If a patient seems unruly, disruptive, or even dangerous, staff members should monitor this person more closely to make sure they don’t hurt themselves or the other patients.
  • Nurses and staff members shouldn’t dismiss patient concerns and requests, even if they aren’t urgent. Patients may feel helpless in the hospital, so even a slight nod or a simple “yes” may be enough to assuage their concerns if they need something like their clothes.
  • Nurses can also take the time to explain facility protocols and procedures to their patients. For example, if a patient can’t have their clothes and must remain in their hospital gown, the nurse can take a minute to explain this rule and why it needs to be enforced.

As a care provider, try to see things from your patient’s perspective and keep them informed as much as possible. Even if the patient doesn’t get what they want, having someone explain the situation to them may calm down their nerves in the moment.

We all know patients can be demanding, and, as a nurse, you need to strike the right balance as you care for multiple patients at once. If they feel they’re being ignored, it could damage your facility’s reputation in the industry, even if they don’t set their beds on fire.

Use this information to keep your patients satisfied every step of the way.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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