Employers accomodating injured nurses

  1. Have a question here. I am a med-surg nurse. Lots of physical work with my position, such as lifting, bending, stooping and such. My back has been a mess for about 3 weeks. My NP I have been seeing said that my employer may have to look at finding me another position in the hospital that doesn't require such physical activity. I may have blown a disk at L5. My question is: Is my employer obligated to try and accomodate me with my back, or am I basically screwed and need to start looking for a position that doesn't require such physical activity. I am going to be going into PT for my back and probably will be getting an MRI, but the L/S xrays today looked suspicious for a herniated disk. Any suggestions, comments, ideas? Thanks. Anyone else who has experienced a similar situation? I would really appreciate input. Thanks.
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  2. 17 Comments

  3. by   Sleepyeyes
    I dunno the answer but I really really feel for ya. Let us know how it turns out??
    But--it might be helpful to know that when I had problems with my arm strength due to my last hospitalization, they were wishing they could put me on as monitor tech--not such a bad thing.
  4. by   JonRN
    I hate to be the one to tell you, but chances are your back is going to keep getting worse as long as you do what you do. I have been through it all, started out like you with PT, it would get better for a while, then worse for a while. Finally after 9 yrs of chiro PT etc. it went totally bad. I had sciatica so bad I could hardly walk.

    Went to an orthopedic spine surgeon I knew was a good guy, he rec'ed an L5/S1 fusion with instrumetation. I didn't really want to but I had the surgery. This was in '97. Felt great for about 2 yrs, now I have bad back pain every day. No pain meds for me other than Tylenol, I tough it out. Sucks. Big time.

    As far as support from your employer goes, I got very little. Finally quit the SICU, and went to work as a work comp case mgr. Hated it, too many dirtbags looking for a soft place to land. Some were really great people that needed my services, but a lot were the other kind, minimum wage types, or Manpower people. You had to drag them kicking and screaming back to health.

    I reached age 62 in July and went ahead and retired. I am wishing you all the best deespoohbear, and hope your story has a happier ending than mine.

    Pappy
  5. by   deespoohbear
    Oh, I know that my back will continue to hurt as long as I do what I do. I am no where near retirement age, so that option is out. I am just wondering if my employer is under any obligation to try and work with me to help me maintain employment. My husband is a farmer and I need to work for the health insurance. I know in the past that me employer has worked around other people's health problems and found (or even created) positions for them. Heck, one nurse was accused of stealing narcs and she was given a paperwork position while she was on probation. If my back is screwed up, I just hope my employer is willing to work around my limitations. Thanks for the replies.
  6. by   flowerchild
    IMO, you are at a fork in the road of life.

    You need to decide, do you want disability and all that goes with it??? Write an injury report the next time your back is hurt at work....especially helpful if you wrote up previous reports for back injuries at work. If not, it may not help much. We nurses are notorious for denial of an injury at work. Back injuries are one of those things...did I really hurt it??? Or, is it going to go away in a couple of days? Also, they happen over time so that there is no one incident to blame the injury on. But, if you want compensation for your injury at work, you must have an identifiable incident to attach it to. Too many nurses end up with dibilitating back injuries and pain that they know happened on the job but no proof which = no help. No hospital I have ever known allowed anyone to work unless they were 100% able to perform the duties. Except for one rehab hospital, they allowed a nurse who was in a car accident take a position as a unit clerk, then they let her progress her nursing hours coupled with the clerk hours until she was able to work a full shift. It took several months but she finally got there, then quit. Another nurse at the same hospital was limited on lifting due to injury he recieved at work and worked full shifts, but guess who had to do all the lifting? ME! They'd put both of these nurses on the same unit with me and I was the only one without a Dr. note that said No Lifting, guess who ended up hurt? ME! I thought it was not fair that i had to do ALL the transfers and lifts. So to work with restrictions places a burden on you coworkers which really isn't fair either. Once you let the hospital know that you are injured due to a back injury I doubt that they will try to help you at all....they see the bottom line and don't want you hanging on, they very well may see you as a potential or actual burden.

    On the flip side..... Usually the nurse job description is similar or the same no matter where you work in the hospital...so letting them know or providing a Docs excuse may actually hurt your ability to move to another position that is less demanding. If you think you will be able to handle a different position, then apply to that position on your own and see what happens. Start thinking about nursing jobs that are less strenious and find one you think you would like on your own. Then you don't have to worry about anyone helping or accomodating you. This is what I did. I wanted to avoid becoming "disabled". I have a job where I never lift and my back is much better now. Still hurts in the same ol' lumbar places at times and sciatica kicks in once in a while but I can handle it for now and hope to never make it worse by working in an environment that I know will make it worse. Of course your risking ending up dibilitated anyway and without compensation or accomodation but go ahead and try to get help and compentsation now and see where you end up.....probably out on a limb without any assistance or help like most of the injured nurses I know of anyway.

    I am really sorry to hear your having this problem. I know youre not alone. Sending positive vibes your way and wishing you better.
  7. by   flowerchild
    deespoohbear, The answer to your question is probably dependent on where you live. Laws are different from state to state. If you work in a "right to work" state then the answer is NO. You will only have the right to be accomodated if your state says you have that right and I don't know of any that do.
  8. by   live4today
    After my arm injury, I received a few months of medical pay, then it came to a halt! I guess I could have reapplied, but did not...thinking I would improve in record time on my own, and get back to work. That didn't happen! It is now five years later, and I still have problems with said limb.

    Had I been a staff nurse instead of working Agency at that time, I would have expected my employer to accomodate me in some way...I would have checked the employee health records "handicapped" in a way that I could not lift over so many pounds, or worked more than so many hours per day.

    People with handicaps cannot be discriminated against...so I would have to go with that option in order to maintain employment as a nurse. I still may have to do this.

    There are always nursing tasks that require a RN/LPN whereas the nurse does NOT have to do heavy labor on the job. She/he could be monitor techs, pass meds, take off doctor orders and transcribe them onto patient MARs, feed the patients who cannot feed themselves, do all the new admit paperwork and assessments, assist other nurses with difficult patients that would not require the injured nurse to overexert herself/himself....plus so many other things. She/he could work on the unit as a nurse patient advocate...troubleshooter......the RN could do Charge Nursing without taking patients EXCEPT for the new admits, then turning over any heavy lift patients to other staff.

    There is NO reason why any nurse who is injured should not be allowed to continue working as a nurse as long as their injuries are not of the kind that would keep them from performing any nursing task at all. With the nursing shortage as it is, I would think hospitals would try to figure out a way to keep every employee working in whatever capacity is humanly possible. I know I would if I ran a hospital.
    Last edit by live4today on Sep 9, '02
  9. by   duckie
    If you were injured at work, do NOT expect your employer to be honest with you on what you have coming to you and what their obligations are! Fill out all proper paperwork, keep copies and if they give you any crap, see an attorney that specializes in Workers Comp claims. At the beginning of my career, my employer told me I was S.O.L., so I got an attorney. I received Workers Comp. for nearly four years, due to going from one state to another and one P.I.A. hearing after another, requiring me to travel back to where I used to live for MD visits and hearings. I got my 3 discs fused together in the end and a healthly settlement for the fact that I cannot reach my toes......didn't like them little suckers anyways, don't miss touchin' them at all. Get a laywer, they'll look out for YOU, not their own best interest. Of course they get a piece of the pie, but I'd rather share a little than not have anything and they also paid for all my pain meds. Don't cut them no slack, look out for YOU!!!!!!!
  10. by   sjoe
    Well, good luck BUT....

    If you want workers' comp or anything at all from your employer, be prepared to prove that this injury is work-related. An employer does not have to accomodate your physical problems if you are unable to do a large part of your job. (You don't see many quads or blind people working as med-surg nurses, do you?) They only have to make "reasonable' accomodation. Each State and each facility gets to decide what that means, to a great extent.

    And they don't have to provide another job for you, though they may choose to do so. You thought that "loyalty" worked both ways? Get a grip.

    But, document everything that has to do with your back and your work from the beginning of that 3 week period you cite, through the future. I'd do an initial (and relatively inexpensive) consult with a labor or workers' comp lawyer to see what to do next (whether and how you should officially notify your supervisor, the hospital, etc.).

    AND keep your mind open to a more suitable job. It is difficult for the facility to NOT see you as a liablilty from here on out, harsh though that might sound. The same goes for any future facility, unfortunately. What mine did, and this was 2 weeks after a ry good evaluation, was write a new evaluation, saying they would NOT rehire me in the future--which is a kiss of death, so far as references go--but they hoped it might cover their butts if I made a claim against them--they could say I was "disgruntled" because I got a bad evaluation. See how it works?

    In subsequent jobs, I've selected carefully the kinds of jobs to apply for and not mentioned any history of back problems. Otherwise, they don't want to deal with you, even if that wouldn't have been an issue on the job. You are, in their eyes, more likely to miss work, more likely to try to get on disability, etc. than a prospective employee who hasn't had these problems. (Statistics show that is accurate, by the way, so you can't really blame HR for having this attitude.)

    And, of course, the number one physical problem that CNAs, LVNs, and RNs have is--back problems. They chew us up and spit us out, for the most part.

    IMHO.
    Last edit by sjoe on Sep 9, '02
  11. by   NurseDennie
    My best friend walked into work, perfectly healthy at 0630 on Christmas Eve, 1998. By 1100 she was writhing in pain on a gurney in the ED. They were ready to send her home p/ one lousy demerol shot, and SHE was going to be a good girl and go! But as I was trying to walk her to the exit, I'm holding her up because she had footdrop so badly. She was in too much pain to KNOW she had footdrop!

    Now, today? She was totally, 100% screwed by the hospital. She claimed workers comp and the hospital said she couldn't prove it was work-related. The neurologist who told her "we'll do right by you" when she asked him whether he would write an opinion that her injury was work-related, did NOT so certify when it came time to fill out the form. We were neuro nurses, by the way.

    So, from what I understand, the employer is supposedly obligated to provide for "reasonable" accommodations for your problem IF you can prove that it's work-related.

    I add my caveats to the above! When I injured the muscles that the sciatic nerve goes through so badly that it provoked foot drop that caused me to fall down and break my arm, the workers comp NURSE changed the circumstances of my injury from what I've just described to "Tripped on the phone cord." AFTER I'd signed the injury report!!! I understand that the government dings employers where employees are further injured as a result of a previous work injury.

    So -- that said, I doubt if your employer is going to be "able" to find a position that takes your bad back into account. Because if you've already made a workers comp report about a back injury, that makes you a big risk. They're not going to want you on the premises. Because I also understand that in order to get workers comp, you don't have to prove that the entire injury happened at this job. You just have to prove that a previous injury was made worse.

    I'm sorry that you're not getting a lot of encouragement here. But I think you'll find that a lot of nurses feel like they were used up and cast aside.

    Love

    Dennie
  12. by   Nurse Ratched
    I had a coworker intentionally injured by a patient (who knew what he was doing) badly enough that she required surgery (and then had to have it redone because the first one didn't take.) She talked to the NM about her intention to press charges against the pt: was told that the facility "discouraged" it. Of course they did - that would just be more evidence that it WAS work related. She didn't press charges and got grief from the company through the entire process of workman's comp.

    Another nurse injured her shoulder and was pressed by the company into making a "quick settlement" (dang - sounds just like those ambulance chasing lawyer commercials.) Fortunately, she waited as long as she legally could to determine what the extent of the injury long term was, and it was worse than initially thought. She received a better settlement.

    "Light duty" varies from facility to facility. The bigger concern is if you get put back in the same situation and you are injured worse for trying to do as you have always done.

    This is not to throw out horror stories, just to emphasize PLEASE protect yourself. The facility's job is to minimize its liability. Unfortunately, that translates into screwing you if need be. Corporations have the bottom line to answer to, and if I may quote sjoe, it's hard for the facility not to see you as a liability.

    Great hopes coming from here for your speedy recovery and minimal pain.
  13. by   deespoohbear
    Wow, I am suprised at the emotional responses here. I am not trying to elicit sympathy. I do not want to be "disabled." I know that it puts a burden on my co-workers when one is restricted, but the only thing I am restricted from is lifting. I have taken a full assignment of patients, done my fair share of admits and dismissals, pass meds etc. I figure I would be a bigger burden to my co-workers if I wasn't coming to work and they had to pick up all the slack to cover my shift. To sjoe-no I didn't think loyality worked both ways, but I thought maybe my employer would be obligated under the American with Disabilities Act. Hopefully this won't be a long term problem for me, but I need to be thinking about my future.

    Unfortunately, I cannot pinpoint this to one occasion when I hurt my back. I cannot honestly say "I hurt my back when we moved Mr. Smith in bed." Just one day my back started aching and it hasn't stopped. So I cannot honestly file a workman's comp claim. I will not be a participant in fraud.

    I also don't have any intention of becoming "disabled." I am just trying figure out what my options are with this. I don't want to be "disabled." But, I refuse to ruin my back and my health also. I am not talking about long-term accomadations in my current position. I am talking about the short term until I get this back healed or otherwise. If I can't be a med-surg nurse anymore, so be it.

    I sure didn't think I would elicit the kind of responses I have with this thread.
  14. by   Nurse Ratched
    I feel badly that we all came on so strong, Dee. I guess we are so protective of our fellow nurses who have been injured on the job - we know that but for a 1/4 inch turn the wrong way it could easily be us. Like I said - take care of *yourself.* ((hugs))

    And you are correct - many injuries are a result of just the years of wear and tear versus a single definable incident, so it can be difficult to pinpoint, but nursing is no friend to backs.
    Last edit by Nurse Ratched on Sep 9, '02

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