The Unvarnished Truth Is That Our Patients Are No Longer Safe!


Most of us don’t plan for our next visit to the hospital. And when it happens, it’s a stressful occasion. Setting aside the injury or illness that requires hospitalization, there are many other reasons to be anxious about it. As patients, we’re almost entirely dependent on the actions of strangers (doctors, nurses, nurse’s aides, support staff). We’re surrounded by others in similar stages of distress. Let’s face it—it’s not a serene environment.
Oddly enough, here in America, most people go through their entire lives thinking that the hospital is a place of safety and dependability. Patients interact with calm, professional staff; receive meals and medications on time and have their call lights answered…even if not as fast as they would like.  Nurses and support staff work hard to keep you safe, comfortable and unworried.  This is probably a powerful testimony to the hard work and caring effort provided by millions of health care professionals every day.

Unfortunately, things are changing. The unvarnished truth is that our patients are no longer safe in healthcare facilities.  This includes acute care and long-term care, and can include outpatient settings as well.  We are simply too short staffed to give them the attention they deserve.  We are unable to make frequent assessments of their condition because there are too many patients assigned to us.  We are afraid to speak up because many facilities will fire us outright for refusing to take an unsafe assignment. Yes, hospitals will fire nurses for trying to keep their patients safe.  

Who hasn’t seen a healthcare commercial depicting smiling nurses and laughing patients?  Hospital rooms are sunny and bright and the atmosphere is one of tranquility and caring. It almost looks like they’re on vacation! Like most things on TV, however, those commercials are pure fantasy. The problem is that nurses today are forcing a smile because they are terribly worried about you. They are not calm. Nurses are taking care of more patients, with more serious medical conditions, less support staff and triple the redundant and unnecessary documentation required ten years ago.  

If I had a dollar for every time I have been told to ‘work smarter, not harder,’ I would have at least 100 bucks and I would still be annoyed and exhausted.  We cannot possibly work ‘smart enough’ to safely take care of eight patients on a general medicine floor. We cannot be ‘organized enough’ to handle six patients who require cardiac monitoring.  We cannot adequately care for three critically ill patients in the intensive care unit solely to suit the people who pay our salaries.  These are the same people who demand we use ‘evidence based practice’ but refuse to do so themselves: studies show that mortality rates increase with unsafe staffing.

Let me say that again.  People DIE because the hospital will not staff enough nurses to take care of you.  It costs money to staff appropriately.  It is much easier to blame the problem on nurse inefficiency. Nurses routinely fear that your mother will sustain a hip fracture because she got out of bed and fell after we weren’t able to answer her call light in time (we are likely running frantically to give meds, administer treatments, wound care dressing changes, and a million other tasks). Will she succumb to a life-threatening surgical infection and pneumonia (common complications after a hip fracture)? It is possible. It is more likely when nurses are expected to be eight places at once.  

Nursing has been voted the most trusted profession in the U.S. for well over a decade.  Now, it is time for us to do what is right for our patients.  Nurses are raising awareness in the community as to the danger you are being subjected to in healthcare facilities.  We are united in our worry for your welfare.  

On May 12, 2016, three grassroots nursing organizations including Show Me Your Stethoscope, A Voice for Nurses Now and Nurses for National Patient Ratios will give voice to our concern at the Rally for Safe Nurse Patient Ratios. (Event area 9 near the US Capitol Building in Washington DC.)  The rally will take place between 10am and 3pm. Between 11am and 1pm, several legislators will speak about the issue of safe nurse staffing. They include (but are not limited to) Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Congresswoman Joyce Kelly Beatty (D-OH), and Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD). These distinguished ladies are committed to protecting the ill from aggressive profit-saving practices, and will share their thoughts with us.

We welcome and encourage the public to attend and learn about safe staffing ratios.  We want to answer your questions so you can help us raise awareness in the community.  A recent study released by Johns Hopkins University ranked medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Nurses wish to be appropriately staffed to diminish the occurrence of medical errors. Surely we can all get behind this issue.

Please join us on May 12, 2016 to help the nurses who advocate for their patients in the hospital.  Click here for more information In the meantime, please look at this list of safe nurse patient ratios (per National Nurses United) and ask your nurse how many patients she is caring for. Ask her if you are safe. You need to know.
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