Thursday, November 06, 2003

Nurses: Long Hours = Danger for Patients

Bush, Nursing Home Industry: 'No Problem'

The National Academy of Sciences is picking up on something that those of us who work with (or as) nurses have known for a long time.
Many hospitals and nursing homes are endangering patients by allowing or requiring nurses to work more than 12 hours a day, the National Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday.

Such long hours cause fatigue, reduce productivity and increase the risk that the nurses will make mistakes that harm patients, the academy said in a new report commissioned by the federal government.
NAS recommended that nurses work no more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period or more than 60 hours a week, yet over one quarter of nurses work more than 13 consecutive hours at least once a week.

As usual, the Bush Administration has come down on the wrong side of this issue
The Bush administration said last year that it had no plans to set minimum staffing levels for nursing homes, in part because such requirements would generate billions of dollars in additional costs for Medicaid, Medicare and nursing homes.

But the National Academy of Sciences said the administration should do what it declined to do last year: set "minimum standards for registered and licensed nurse staffing in nursing homes."
The American Hospital Association and the American Health Care Association (which represents the nursing home industry) see now problem either.
Pamela Thompson, chief executive of the American Organization of Nurse Executives, a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association, said it was "an accepted practice" for nurses to work 12-hour shifts.

Alan E. DeFend, vice president of the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said: "The shortage of nursing assistants has reached crisis proportions. Sometimes there's just no alternative to overtime."
To address the problem, the report came up with a radical solution, one that's also no surprise to those familiar with work in nursing homes (or any other workplace): "To reduce such errors, the panel said, nurses should be more involved in the day-to-day management of hospitals and nursing homes."