WORKING TOGETHER PEF member Amy Mahar, an attorney
at the state Department of Correctional Services, is
welcomed by members of the PEF Nurses Committee as a
guest speaker at the October training conference for
nurses held by PEF in Albany. Shown are Lenore Boris, Pat
Wilson, Mahar, Committee Chair Brian Hyde and Dee Dodson.
you wont tell your story, who will?
Only you can tell how short staffing opens the door to
By LENORE BORIS
Horror stories abound.
Bold headlines announce: Nursing mistakes cause
News media report a $2.7million out-of-court settlement
awarded against a nurse for failing to adequately monitor
a a 62-year-old patient who suffers permanent brain
damage. Another article tells how an unlicensed
nurses aide failed to report a patients
excessive vaginal bleeding to the nurse. Lacking
professional care, the woman hemorrhaged to death. And in
yet another heart-wrenching report, an infant dies when a
tired, overworked nurse gives it 10 times the usual dose
The public wonders how such serious mistakes could occur.
Error risks too familiar
But we nurses know all too well how easily they can
happen. We know the often unrecognized roles that
difficult working conditions, long hours, understaffing,
reliance on unlicensed aides, inadequate orientation, and
floating work assignments play in setting the stage for
such tragic errors.
We hate to face it, but we know that such work-place
conditions can make mistakes inevitable.
A recent investigative series of articles on nursing in
the Chicago Tribune revealed the shocking toll of nursing
mistakes. The author was criticized that he made nurses
look bad. In an editorial, Tribune reporter Michael J.
Berens explained what he believed was the key message of
He said, If any single factor is to blame,
its a galloping disregard in high places for the
role quality nursing plays in the care and recovery of
Almost any PEF nurse could have predicted the outcome of
PEFs recent survey on nurse staffing at state
worksites that reveals how every day thousands of PEF
nurses find themselves working short-handed and facing
mandatory overtime, increasing responsibilities,
assignments outside their specialties and serious time
These are the very factors that Berens highlights
systematic understaffing and undertraining that lead to
serious nursing errors.
Wash, dress the wound
Like a patient who is reluctant to acknowledge and face
their illness or injury, we nurses often try to deny or
minimize our workplace problems.
We are reluctant to talk about our difficult and
stressful working conditions. And we are even more
reluctant to talk about the nursing errors that result.
Revealing this dark side of nursing seems almost
blasphemous to a profession dedicated to ensuring the
safety and quality of patient care. Yet, we must be
willing to tell our stories.
Like the patient who denies the obvious, we must find the
courage to face and acknowledge our problems before we
can treat them.
We must tell our stories. And this discussion must go
beyond simply commiserating with one another.
As PEF embarks on a plan to press for legislation and
changes in the work place to ensure safe staffing and
address these problems, our voices as nurses are
Legislators, managers, patients, voters, friends and
family all need to hear us tell how our working
conditions make it so stressful and difficult to deliver
the safe, high quality nursing care that we all strive to
The story behind the headlines is one of overwork,
stress, long hours and unreasonable expectations. But,
only by telling the whole story can our efforts to ensure
the safety and quality of patient care be successful.
your voice be heard
Here are just a few
examples of the things you can do to raise awareness of
the problems short staffing fosters at your worksite:
Join a speakers bureau talk to
Participate in a career day at your childs
Send a letter to the editor.
Invite a legislator to spend a day
with a nurse on the job.
Invite advisory-board members of your facility to
tour your worksite.
Submit an article to a magazine.
Work with local media to develop a story about
nursing and your concerns.
Hold a candle-light vigil.
Have a petition drive.
Organize a postcard or letter-writing campaign.
Arrange a poster presentation at the local mall.
Hold a rally.
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