Doctors may get the accolades for the dramatic saves — the open-chest heart massages, the delicate brain tumor removals — but it's the nurses who are in the trenches keeping patients alive until the next shift takes over.
But what happens when the expected relief doesn't arrive? Nurses are supposed to carry on, regardless, without ever letting the quality of patient care slip.
Asking the impossible from nurses
If nurses were robots programmed to render care to patients, this might be possible. But robots will never be able to softly hold a patient's hand as he or she transitions from this world into the next or sing a lullaby to a newborn shaking from withdrawal from prenatal exposure to opioid drugs.
Nurses are all too human: When pushed to work longer shifts past the point of endurance to cover nursing staffing shortages, it is inevitable that they become demoralized and dissatisfied with the working conditions of their jobs.
Your life could be in danger from nursing shortages
Poor staff morale is not the only downside to nursing shortages, as patient care declines when there aren't enough able-bodied nurses on the floor to meet the patients' needs. Many patients depend on the nurses' trained eyes and ears to spot symptoms that indicate worsening conditions.
Harried and hurried nurses might not notice the first signs of dyspnea that indicate a large blood clot has broken free and made its way to the lung, blocking air. They may overlook the rise in temperature that could indicate a patient has become septic and is about to medically crash.
Risk of medical errors rises
Missing serious symptoms due to lack of nursing staff is a major problem, but even more egregious errors can occur when nurses are short-staffed. Medication can get switched, patients can receive the wrong dosages. The rate of medical errors occurring has a direct correlation to an insufficient number of nurses on staff.
What can patients and families do?
Being proactive about patient safety is always wise, but sometimes patients are too ill or unconscious and unable to advocate for themselves. Family members can intercede on their behalf if necessary.
This will not always be sufficient, however, as most patients and their families lack the medical training and education to correctly interpret symptoms that can indicate a looming medical crisis.
If you or a loved one suffered an adverse medical event due to a staffing shortage at a hospital or nursing home, you may need to seek justice through the Ohio and Kentucky civil court systems.