COVID-19 has unveiled something nurses have known for a long time….for the best possible health outcomes, we need hospital environments that support nurses. Empowering nurses to guide staffing decisions may, even in the midst of a crisis, make this terrifying experience better and safer.
We have heard about the critical issue of PPE shortages. I am also concerned about the lack of direct-care nursing representation at decision-making tables. Without nurses weighing in on how to utilize nursing staff, we lose information that can help keep patients safe.
When I worked as an ICU nurse, I cared for critically ill patients. It was my responsibility to carefully monitor and respond to subtle and acute changes to save patients’ lives. Nurses providing direct care understand what individuals need, as well as the training staff members have. Even in difficult conditions, like what we are seeing with the pandemic, nurses can recommend innovative ideas for tough decisions.
In many places the pandemic has stretched resources. In both the short- and long-term, nurses must be assured that they will have a voice. If not, and we see increased burnout rates, things could get much worse and we will be less likely to address foundational concerns.
People do not want to work for an unsafe institution and patients do not want to put their lives in the hands of such an organization. Addressing staffing concerns and integrating nurses into problem solving will ensure they speak to the concerns they see the pandemic exacerbate and then influence the best use of resources. And, once the pandemic has passed, nurses will remain on the floor, making decisions that strengthen hospitals for employees and patients alike.
Elizabeth Aquino, PhD, RN
Associate Director of the Master’s Entry to Nursing Practice Program