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Musings on Protecting Nurses: Protecting Ourselves and Our Patients

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Short article regarding recent infections of nurses exposed to Ebola. Nurses working with patients are usually exposed to a number of pathogens as a consequence of their jobs. Health care facilities have demonstrated that protecting nurses and others may not occur. Nurses have a duty to ensure that they take control of situations where they may be exposed to contagions.

Musings on Protecting Nurses: Protecting Ourselves and Our Patients

The recent plethora of news regarding the two nurses who contracted Ebola through contact while giving patient care raises numerous questions as well as a few conclusions. As front line caregivers, nurse expect exposure to illness as a result of their job choice. Nurses who engage in patient care, whether it occurs in hospitals, nursing homes or doctor's offices have been exposed to and infected with any number of pathogenic organisms. From MRSA to hepatitis and TB, strep and simple cold virus' there is not much chance of being a nurse and not catching something from someone at some time.

But how can we as nurses know how much protection we need if our very own infectious control specialists do not give us guidelines to follow? In the Ebola exposures, nurses were placed in harms way through what can only seem to be ignorance or negligence on the part of infection control in the hospital which employed them. Knowing hindsight is twenty twenty is not much help when you are suffering from a viral illness with an exceptionally high mortality rate. How could such mistakes occur and how can we prevent them from ever happening again?

Nurses know that they cannot always count on higher authority to make correct choices for them, yet are often reluctant to speak out in fear of retaliation. In Texas, we were fortunate that one nurse chose to do the right thing and tell the public what was happening behind the scenes in this hospital dealing with a deadly disease. What if we had not known that for two days, Thomas Duncan was undiagnosed with Ebola yet was raging with the virus and nurses taking care of him were, quite literally risking their own lives without knowing what they were dealing with. This is not a tidy disease, but a messy, contagious fluid filled vomit and diarrhea spewing sickness which required at the very least, constant cleaning, emptying and disposing pathogenic virus loaded contaminants. Knowing what we as nurses know, we presume that the Texas nurses were gowned, and gloved. Period. No masks. No face shields. No respirators. No shoe covers.

Later we also found out the trash from the patient was piled to the ceiling. For how long? Who got rid of it? Where did it go? How many others might have been inadvertently exposed just by the detritus? Did it pile up and get thrown out before the patient was known to have Ebola? Or was that after? Who was in charge? Anyone?

As nurses, we must take control of this type of situation. In any patient suspected of having any type of communicable disease, we must protect ourselves and ultimately the public from illness as much as we are able. We must not let our managers and supervisors continue to ask us to put ourselves in harms way without our knowledge. When Duncan was admitted to the ER for the second time and was Ebola suspect, the highest level of biocontainment should have been instituted and if it isn't done by the hospital, then we must do it ourselves. We have a duty to protect our health so that we can protect and assist others with theirs.

We have to question everything. We have to report things we feel aren't in our or our patient's best interests. We have to above all, feel that we have been informed of any risk we might be taking and have to opportunity to protect ourselves. If we don't do it, no one will. If our employers retaliate, let's make sure we retaliate back. This is after all, our very lives which are at stake. There really isn't anything more important.

Lastly, if you are a hospital infection control nurse, or specialist, realize our lives depend on you to get it right. Err on the side of caution, ALWAYS. You don't always get a second chance to save a life.

Jane Rogers is a hospice case manager with experience in gerontology and a Master's Degree in Bioethics. Certified in gerontology and hospice and palliative care.

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2 Comment(s)

MsPiggy

Specializes in med-surg,sa,breast & cervical ca. Has 22 years experience.

"We have to question everything. We have to report things we feel aren’t in our or our patient’s best interests. We have to above all, feel that we have been informed of any risk we might be taking and have to opportunity to protect ourselves. If we don’t do it, no one will. If our employers retaliate, let’s make sure we retaliate back. This is after all, our very lives which are at stake. There really isn’t anything more important. "

Excellent!

herring_RN, ASN, BSN

Specializes in Critical care, tele, Medical-Surgical. Has 49 years experience.

Help Stop Ebola by Telling Congress and the White House to Order Hospitals to Put Safety Standards First

Simply put, the status quo is indefensible if it puts nurses, other frontline healthcare workers, and patients' lives in jeopardy.

Now that nurses, who have been sounding the alarm about Ebola for more than two months, finally have the attention of policy makers and many others, let's have no more excuses and take the steps needed to contain and eradicate this virulent disease in the U.S. and globally.

You can help by signing our online petition to Congress and President Obama here.

In the U.S., long experience with the privately-run corporate hospital chains that dominate care delivery have made the sober reality abundantly clear - unless the healthcare industry is mandated to put the safety of patients, nurses, and other caregivers above their profit motive, the Ebola threat will only get worse.

That's why we are asking all Americans to join us. Sign our online petition to tell Congress and the White House to mandate all hospitals follow the highest safety standards and protocols for Ebola - and if they don't, you control their Medicare and Medicaid fund, the lever for a penalty for failure to comply...

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/20/help-stop-ebola-telling-congress-and-white-house-order-hospitals-put-safety