The Bathroom and the Call Button

Okay, call me innocent but when I sit in these Town Hall meetings and hear nurses tell stories that cut to the bone about their experiences with short staffing, I have to wonder what kind of people are running these hospitals. I understand budgets and the bottom line and you can’t help people if you’re constantly in the red. But what the hospitals are doing now isn’t helping people, either.

The story we kept hearing Tuesday at the Town Hall meeting in Kalamazoo with Representative Robert Jones (D-60) was bedwetting. Patients who had wet the bed because a nurse couldn’t get to them quick enough to help them to the bathroom. Embarrassed patients, in many cases.

We heard many stories (read our press release for more) but that was the one that kept coming back to haunt me. I tried to picture myself laying in bed, hooked up to a monitor  or too unsteady to get out of the bed and walk to the bathroom. I thought about the frustration of many patients who used to go to the bathroom normally like it was no big deal, and who now have to wait for someone to help them.  It that’s not demeaning enough, there’s the feeling you get when your bladder is full and you’re in pain — imagine laying there and getting more and more uncomfortable and then, it happens. You’ve pushed on that call button for all you’re worth but it’s too late. You’re laying in a pool of your own urine, cold, clammy and thoroughly humiliated.

Now when the nurse finally gets there, you have to be cleaned up (another indignity) and sit in a chair in that chilly room while people remake your bed. Your roommate has watched all of this and you’d love for it to be a secret but they know.

And the trouble is, it happened the other night, too, when a nurse couldn’t get there fast enough.

When we start focusing so much on the money aspect that we lose not only the capability to provide safe patient care but the ability to give patients dignity, we have taken a terribly wrong path. Tuesday night we heard stories of nurses begging exhausted family members to stay the night with their loved one because the nurse, in all honesty, wasn’t sure she could keep them safe. How do the administrators of hospitals sleep at night knowing that this facsimile of safe patient care is going on in their facilities?

“I go home crying, many, many, many days,” said one nurse. “I don’t go home crying because of my 12 hour shift. I don’t go home crying because of the tasks I have to do. I go home crying because I worry that I’m potentially harming somebody for not being adequately able to take care of them or the medication errors or all the running around we have to do. It’s not safe . . . We go home crying when we know we’re not doing what we need to be doing.”

Rep. Jones was, in his own words, speechless. “I must say this is quite an education for me. I was under the impression that there were some form of minimal staffing.”

“There is a tremendous need,” he said, “to make sure that not only for the hospitals but for everyone involved in this community that patients in the hospital get the best care and that there is enough staffing there so that patients have the best care.”

The ability to pass HB 4008, the Safe Patient Care legislation that would establish minimum nurse-to-patient ratios and abolish the use of mandatory overtime lies in the hands of these legislators. It is painfully obvious that nothing is going to be done by the hospitals — nurse-to-patient ratios must be mandated by legislation. Legislators don’t understand what you deal with every day so you must tell them. Many people are going to the Michigan Nurses MARCH! to do just that. Come and join us!

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