How the Nursing Shortage Effects Patient Care

The lack of nurses in today’s health care industry is a major concern of not only hospitals and nurses themselves, but also the patients.  There have been multiple studies that show that a hospital with a well-staffed nursing unit have lower mortality rates than hospitals lacking nurse care. (http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-workforce) According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “the odds of patient mortality increased 7 percent for every additional patient in the average nurse’s workload in the hospital.” To me this shows that my father is not the only person who has suffered from the lack of nurses in the health care field today.

I can bore you all day long with facts and statistics. I can show you charts and graphs, site article after article. But for me, these have no bearing on personal experience. I want to preface with the statement that I do not blame the nursing community for any infractions my father suffered and that the following examples are just a few of the experiences I had with my father and his fellow patients.

As I have said many times, my father went through years of recovery after multiple brain surgeries.  While in the Intensive Care Unit immediately after his surgeries, my father benefited from having a ratio of one nurse to every two patients. The ICU is a place where patients are very unstable and need immediate and immaculate care.  This was provided for him and I can honestly say that the nurses helped me mentally as much as they helped my father physically. They were angels, there to care for my father and to reassure me when he was at his worst.

After leaving the ICU and eventually the hospital for a respiratory care facility, I noticed that my father still had these angels around him, but not nearly as many.  When my father needed assistance, he would press his “nurse call button” and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. To the point where, if I was visiting him, I would have to go and let the nurses know my father needed help. Sometimes I would walk into his room and see his call light on and he would let me know that he had been waiting for over 20 minutes for a nurse to assist him.  He could not talk or walk – in fact he could barely move – so the call button was the only way for him to get the nurses attention. At this point, my dad wasn’t looking for a Tylenol to ease his pain; he was looking to have someone help raise him up in bed so he could breathe easier. He needed to be cared for like a small baby – something no middle aged man wants to experience. Along with his depletion in physical health, the fact that he was forced to wait a ridiculous amount of time to be helped to do something like breath took a toll on his mental health as well.

I can tell you story after story like this. I can tell you how he waited over a half an hour in his own excrement because the nurses and their aides were too busy to get him a bed pan. How I once found him practically blue in the face because he couldn’t breathe and the last time the nurse was in his room she was so busy and flustered that she forgot to leave my father’s call button with in reaching distance. I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t come into see him when I did. Would they have come into check on him randomly? Would he have died? Whose fault would it have been?

The point of this not to say that nurses are bad at what they do, but that when they are stretched so thin with 7 patients to one nurse, how effectively can they do their job? How many other patients can tell you stories like this?

Boy In Hospital

A nurse’s job is an important one. One that takes time and accuracy.  It is not to be taken lightly; it does not leave room for error. A simple mistake can cost a life. How accurate and effective can nurses be when they have 7 or more patients all needing their attention at once? Patients that are in different rooms with different needs are all relying on one person for their care. This is not only unfair to the patients but also the nurses.

While patients can suffer physically because of a lack in nurses, they can also suffer mentally. My father, left alone with no way of getting help, felt scared, frustrated and helpless. This was a man with a PhD from Stanford University. A man who after retirement planned on starting his own company making custom cabinetry.  After his ordeal, he was now a man who depended on someone to change his diaper, to administer a feeding tube, and even shave him.  Not only had he suffered a major blow to his health and ego, he was now forced to rely on a single person who at times, had 10 more patients just like him depending on them as well.  Needless to say, his mental health became a concern for me. He began to get even more depressed than he was and this took a toll on his will to want to recover.  When I asked him if he would like to talk to a social worker or a psychologist about his obvious depression he would respond with, “No, I want a nurse to come and help me get out of bed. I want a nurse to come within 10 minutes of me pressing my call button, and I want, once that nurse does respond, to spend more than two minutes running around my room flustered and barely listening to me.”

This is not fair to the patients and it is not fair to the nurses. How can we expect our loved ones to make a strong recovery when they suffer from weak medical care? And how can we expect our nurses to give every patient they encounter the best possible care they can when they are being stretched to their maximum capacity?

http://www.nfap.com/pdf/0709deadlyconsequences.pdf

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