Nurses week began on Wednesday, and more people than ever are looking for gifts to show their gratitude. Nurses are used to a little appreciation: the hospital-swag and restaurant-discount type appreciation. Maybe in past years nurses could count on a spouse or patient saying thank you. But this year is different. The COVID crisis has suddenly awakened us all to the value of nurses and the dangers they face for us. Everyone’s calling them heroes, and we all want to do more this nurses week. We want to give nurses something that they’ll appreciate, something that will matter!
That’s why many of the lists of nurses week gifts feel like a letdown. Sure we can stay home to help flatten the curve – okay. We can buy a meal or compression socks or donate PPE supplies. It’s these kind of suggestions we find on lists like this, this, and this. (And by the way HERE is an excellent list of ways to donate PPE supplies.) These are all good options. We should do them. But then we still go on wondering if there isn’t something more.
And actually, there is more. There are at least three gifts that nurses wish for that other lists don’t talk about. We have to dig a little deeper to find them. The gifts on this list are things we can’t exactly buy. We can’t even give them in the space of nurses week. But, if we’re looking for a way to show how we value nurses and the work they do, there’s no better gift list than this one.
THE LIST OF NURSES WEEK GIFTS
#1 Don’t forget about nurses after COVID-19
What strikes many of us during this pandemic is the personal risk nurses face caring for COVID patients. We may not realize that, for nurses, facing personal risk is nothing new. Nurses were caring for contagious patients before COVID-19. Likewise, they were already working long hours, had unsafe workloads, and were subject to physical intimidation. This is why the recent surge in accolades and attention have, for many nurses, been bitter-sweet. It’s true that workplace hazards have increased for many nurses, but what’s really new is only that people are noticing. Some nurses expect people will stop noticing as soon as the pandemic is over.
The first of the nurses week gifts we can give is to not forget. Of course nurses did valuable work, even laudable work, before the pandemic. Yet their needs were not at all at the front of our minds. They will keep doing the same work and facing the same challenges after COVID. This time we can stand with them even after the crisis has passed. We can pledge this week that we will not forget the value and needs of our nurses.
#2 Advocate for limits on nurse-to-patient ratios
Nurses can only take care of so many patients at a time. That fact is why limits need to be placed on nurse-to-patient ratios. Though we may not have noticed, the COVID crisis has highlighted the importance of nurse-to-patient ratios. Through March and April, the country went on lockdown so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed. The problem was not just a lack of equipment, like ventilators, but a lack of nurses and staff. It is nurses that would be overwhelmed by a spike in COVID cases. In other words, we’ve been on lockdown, flattening the curve, in an effort to limit the nurse-to-patient ratio. We may not have realized it, but the COVID crisis has had nurse-to-patient ratios at its center.
Of course, the fact that nurses can only handle so many patients was true before the pandemic. Nurses and their advocates have long tried to set limits on nurse-to-patient ratios. An imbalanced ratio is dangerous for both nurse and patient. Take a nurse on a critical care service. He has enough time to give one to three patients adequate attention depending on their level of care needs. As the number of patients he takes care of goes past this limit, his care becomes compromised. If a nurse is given two 1:1 patients, then each patient will only have fifty percent of their needs met. After even a day or two of unrealistic nurse-to-patient ratios, a nurse becomes tired, unable to provide adequate care, and more likely to make mistakes. High ratios have a negative impact from the start.
What can we do?
The most common way to address this issue has been through legislation that mandates limits to nurse-to-patient ratios. So far California and Massachusetts are the only states to pass this kind of legislation. This may be the best approach to solving the problem of nurse-to-patient ratios. However, supporting nurses doesn’t mean supporting one specific policy. It means that when nurses unanimously say that nurse-to-patient ratios are a problem, we listen and look for a way to help. If you would like to pursue this gift, you can go HERE for a summary of current efforts around nurse staffing advocacy.
#3 Advocate to protect nurses from workplace violence
According to OSHA, hospitals are hazardous workplaces. Hospital workers experience injury and illness at a rate that is nearly double the overall private industry rate. One contributing factor is workplace violence. OSHA reports, “Hospitals serve patients with physical or mental health challenges, some of which increase the likelihood of violent outbursts.”
Nurses, furthermore, are the most likely target of violence. They have more patient contact than any other hospital staff. Most of us don’t think of being cursed at, punched, kicked, and spit on as part of a nurse’s job. Nurses, however, know that it very often is. There are at least two reasons. One, this kind of violence is tolerated. Two, no other hospital role is designated for dealing with patients who become violent. So, the violence continues and it falls on nurses.
How prevalent is violence against nurses? An OSHA report claims that serious violent incidents were four times more likely for someone working in healthcare than in private industry. Almost a quarter of nurses reported being the target of physical assault in the last year. For verbal assault, the number was fifty percent. However, violence against nurses is believed to be under-reported. Other studies found alarmingly high rates, especially in certain specialties. In a 2002 study, 100% of ED nurses said they had been verbally assaulted in the past year, and 82% physically assaulted in the same time frame.
What can we do?
As with nurse-to-patient ratios, many advocates have turned to legislation to address violence against nurses. An example of legislation meant to protect nurses from violence is an Illinois bill that went into effect last year. The bill requires hospitals to develop protocols for preventing violent incidents. It also aims to encourage reporting by healthcare workers and appropriate responses from the employers. A similar bill is currently working its way through the US legislature. H.R. 1309, sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney, passed the house in November of 2019. Currently, it is in the hands of a Senate committee. If you want you voice to be heard on H.R. 1309, contact your US senator.
These are the nurses week gifts that nurses really want and that the other lists don’t talk about. The COVID crisis has highlighted the dangers nurses face. Those dangers, however, are not new. What’s new is that we’re noticing. This nurses week, let’s give our pledge to keep noticing and doing whatever we can to help.
We have covered ways to help that have centered on legislation. That is one way to address the needs of nurses, and one that many nurses support. However, that is not the only way to help. If for whatever reason you don’t support the particular legislative solutions proposed, you can still give these gifts to nurses. The important thing is that you find a way to advocate.
The same holds for those of us who support legislation. Current efforts may not be enough or may not work in implementation. These bills do not guarantee that nurses will be protected. That’s why this article begins and ends with another gift, which is the gift of not forgetting our nurses once this crisis is passed. The gift is to remember what nurses do for us, remember the dangers they face, and to advocate for them in whatever way we can.
Other Ways To Support Nurses Now and Long Term
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