“When No One Is on Call” – Did you read it?

iStockphoto | Thinkstock

iStockphoto | Thinkstock

Scrubs contributor Theresa Brown recently posted an article in the New York Times that’s resonating like crazy with nurses…especially those who left nursing because of insufficient staffing.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Bedside nurses are the hospital’s front line, but we can’t do the first-alert part of our jobs if there aren’t enough of us on the floor. More demands for paperwork, along with increasing complexity of care, means the amount of time any one nurse has for all her patients is diminishing. And as hospitals face increasing financial pressure, nurse staffing often takes a hit, because nurses make up the biggest portion of any hospital’s labor costs.

She continues…

Research also shows that when floors are adequately staffed with bedside nurses, the number of patients injured by falls declines. Staff increases lead to decreases in hospital-acquired infections, which kill 100,000 patients every year.

Then, she gets to the heart of the issue for patients…

… having enough nurses is not just about dollars and cents. It’s about limiting the suffering of human beings. When hospitals have insufficient nursing staffs, patients who would have gotten better can get hurt, or worse.

And concludes with this powerful story…

Several months ago I started a new job, and a few weeks in I heard my name being called. A patient getting a drug that can cause dangerous reactions was struggling to breathe. I hurried to her room, only to discover that I wasn’t needed. The other nurses from the floor were already there, stopping the infusion, checking the patient’s oxygen and drawing up the rescue medication.

The patient was rattled, but there were enough nurses to respond, and in the end she was completely fine.

Now picture the same events in a different hospital, one that doesn’t adequately staff, and this time the patient is you. As the drug drips in, you feel a malaise. You breathe deeply but can’t quite get enough air. Your thinking becomes confused, your heart races. Terrified, you press the call light, you yell for help, but the too few nurses on the floor are spread thin and no one comes to help in time. A routine infusion ends with a call to a rapid-response team, a stay in intensive care, intubation, ventilation, death.

This kind of breakdown is not the nurses’ fault, but the system’s. We are not an elastic resource. We can be where we are needed, but only if there are enough of us.

Read the entire story here, then tell us, how is understaffing affecting you? What solutions is your workplace taking (if any?) to alleviate the problem?

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2 Responses to “When No One Is on Call” – Did you read it?

  1. Karen Southard RN RN

    I agree 100%, if you do not have adequate staffing on units, then the results shows more nosocomial infections, more falls, more unsatisfied customers. Yes . customers, we are told they are not patients but customers, that pay the bills and are always right when they complain about anything and we, in turn , are written up because the customer is not happy. We have 3 nurses that are manager, and 2 asst managers on the floor that get counted in the daily staffing ratio of floor nurses but are counted as available staff even if they are not available when situations starts cropping up or the patient loads increase. It is a catch-22 scenerio for us all.

    • RaNimal RN

      Being short staffed is not only dangerous but a real drain on morale which in turn affects the quality of care each nurse provides. I am currently in a facility that is very under staffed and I can feel the burn out creeping up on me that I have been witnessing in all the other nurses from day one. I thought they were just uncaring and too cynical, but now I am recognizing that they are just plain tired of trying to do the impossible. We are asked to provide excellent care (which we all set out with the intent to provide) while performing the job duties of a nurse, secretary, tech, and occasionally housekeeping. Not to mention all those other jobs we never knew we would have when we signed up for nursing school like copy repairman or IT specialist or Family Counselor. (I swear I am gonna write a book some day!) But just to make things a little more interesting lets throw in that we may be tripled on any given shift and that we are often only addressed when we do poorly. Not to congratulate when we do well, but only to dress us down when we are not performing up to standards. So you can imagine how one might begin to feel like it is a no win situation. Try as you might you have neither the time nor the help to provide proper care for your patients and eventually get to feeling like “Why try?” Well, NO WONDER!