As the end of November draws near and the season of giving thanks is upon us, we here at CipherHealth want to take a moment to acknowledge the nursing workforce and all that they do for their patients and colleagues every day.
Across clinical care settings, nurses have the know-how and grit to support us and our loved ones through sickness, difficulty and uncertainty. They do this with skill, grace and empathy. We depend on them while we are in the midst of having to make critical, scary and life-changing decisions.
And yet, while they act as our supports, nurses themselves continue to face untold amounts of adversity, working relentlessly through one of the most challenging periods in recent memory.
The pandemic has had a residual impact on nurses’ mental health — and with gridlocked hospitals and growing staffing shortages, remaining nurses have had little time, space or support to rebound. This is true of newer nurses having to adapt to their roles during a fraught time, and seasoned nursing staff who thought they had “seen it all,” only to be faced with nightmare-ish working conditions.
One study, from Trusted Health, found that on top of high levels of burnout, compassion fatigue, depression and declines in their physical health, nurses themselves are the target of increased workplace violence. Fifty percent of nurses reported being verbally attacked, intimidated or assaulted by a patient or their family. In addition, new data from Press Ganey found that over 5,000 nurses were assaulted on the job during the second quarter of 2022. This translates to 2 nurses being assaulted every hour within that time frame. The most assaults occurred in psychiatric units, pediatric units and emergency departments.
A recent letter from American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) to the President includes the warning that “boarding” — when admitted patients are held in the ED because there are no inpatient beds available — is a becoming its own public health emergency. In short, there are more patients boarding than there are staffed beds and this is the “new normal.” Nurses do not have the capacity to treat sick or dying patients who are right in front of them. With impossible patient-nurse ratios, they have less support, time and resources. The trauma of this has taken its toll on nursing staff across the country. A recent study showed that 38% of healthcare professionals have symptoms of PTSD and 15% have had recent thoughts of suicide or self-harm. It is clear that healthcare workers have already reached their breaking point.
With this in mind, it is difficult to think about what might occur in another crisis. When EDs are overwhelmed, their ability to respond to community emergencies and disasters may also be compromised. This, of course, includes future disease outbreaks.
Currently, hospitals are bracing for a “tridemic” of RSV, seasonal flu and COVID-19. This “triple threat” is especially worrying because, as we’ve seen, nurses are weathering traumatic incident after traumatic incident, sometimes unable to support patients despite their best efforts. All of this speaks to the need for continued support for healthcare workers and staff—from frequent staff rounding and check-ins to workplace violence prevention strategies.
There are no near or long term solutions to these complex, systemic problems. But given the high rates of blatantly unsafe incidents taking place, there is an urgent need for more oversight and hopefully, enough staff present to run hospitals safely and effectively in this difficult time. While the presence of more staff might not be a realistic wish, healthcare leaders have the opportunity to provide our heroes in the nursing profession with digital tools to make their day-to-day less burdensome.
There is no way to adequately extend our gratitude to nurses for the hard work and resilience they have shown in the face of considerable stress. All we can say is thank you for your sacrifices, strength, relentless compassion, and for showing up every day.
Joy Avery, MSN, RN
SVP Clinical Strategy