For nurses, their work environment plays a large role in their job. It impacts everything from job satisfaction (and therefore tenure) to the safety of patients. Studies consistently show how work environment issues, such as nurse staffing, are linked with patient care, length of stay, and even the chance of death.
There are close to 3 million registered nurses and 690,000 licensed practical nurses employed in the US (in 2013). Then add another 2.3 million unlicensed health care workers (including personnel such as nurse assistants, nurse aides, home health aides, personal care aides, ancillary nursing personnel, unlicensed nursing personnel, unlicensed assistive personnel, nurse extenders, and nursing support personnel) who supplement the work of licensed nurses by performing basic patient care activities, and you have over 6 million front-line healthcare workers in the U.S. today.
These front-line workers need their facilities to “have their backs” now more than ever — especially now in this Ebola-headline-grabbing world. With two nurses stricken in the United States and one in Spain, many nursing advocates argue that the risk their compatriots face is higher than necessary.
But it is not just the Ebola scare, which simply shines a new spotlight on the constant risk healthcare workers face. According to USA Today, there were almost 654, 000 reported on-the-job illnesses and injuries in the healthcare and social assistance industries in 2010. This is far more than any other field, including manufacturing and construction.
Therefore, there are three areas that need to be tightened to improve safety:
- Ebola is a scary disease, with a mortality rate ranging anywhere from 50-90%. It is only transmitted by direct contact with bodily fluids, making it impossible to catch standing next to someone on at a bus stop. However, dealing with bodily fluids is part of the daily routine for many front-line nurses. The removing of personal protective equipment — gowns, gloves, face masks and goggles — is one of the biggest areas of contamination and risk. If this seems implausible, put on a raincoat, gloves and a waterproof apron and have someone squirt you with chocolate syrup. Remove all your outer clothing without getting a drop of syrup on your skin. It is almost impossible. Consistent, continuous training is needed.
- Change of workplace culture. Facility management needs to listen and implement the suggestions made by front-line nurses. In this new age of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers, relying on “tried and true” methods simply will not work.
- Fully staffed. Hospital and other healthcare facilities must make sure that there are enough nurses to provide safe care. Bare-bones staffing simply will not cut it. Overtime and extra shifts, leads to overwhelming amounts of stress and fatigue…which, in turn, leads to mistakes. Facilities have to provide a work schedule that allows for adequate rest and sufficient compensation.