Nurses' Problems Are Yours

Article excerpt

In this issue, you'll find a report on the nationwide nursing shortage. (See 'A medical crisis: Who'll care for your patients?" page 67.) It's a good, solid news story about what's happening in hospitals around the country.

Like all good news stories, it's objective. But objectivity won't always shake you by the shoulders to make you see how bad things are. That's left for editorial writers like myself. So here goes:

My friends, your patients will be getting sicker when they go to hospitals instead of getting better. Some will die.

Those who have no family to keep watch, to question, to ring alarms, will languish. If they are conscious enough to realize their needs aren't being met, they will suffer psychic stress that's at least as debilitating as the physical ailments that put them there in the first place.

The nurses who are supposed to be caring for them are forced to care for far too many patients at one time. They are doing so for far longer than the eight or 12 hours that their shift is supposed to run. They are doing so without lunch or dinner breaks, and sometimes without bathroom breaks. And some of them are doing so on units that they haven't been properly trained to staff.

They're going through their own psychic suffering, too. Nurses go into the profession because they want to care for the sick-in the literal, hands-on sense of the word. They want to touch patients-spiritually as well as physically-to help them understand their illness and how to cope with it. But nurses don't have the time to do that any more.

So most of this country's hospital staff nurses are working under conditions that wouldn't be tolerated by most major labor unions, at a job that no longer resembles the one they thought they would be doing when they entered the profession.

In some places, nurses have gone on strike, or threatened to, and they've gotten concessions from administration on staffing and mandatory overtime. …