Throughout the recession, workers have repeatedly been asked to take on increased hours and additional job duties, as employers try to squeeze as much productivity out of as small of a workforce as they possibly can. The health care industry is no different, especially in public hospitals and medical centers like those associated with colleges and universities. One Tennessee hospital believes it has found a new place to make a budget cut — make the nurses do patient room cleaning on top of their regular care rounds.
According to the Channel 4 I Team in Nashville, Vanderbilt University Medical Center has informed the nursing staff that they will be responsible for cleaning patient areas as well as their standard duties.
“Cleaning the room after the case, including pulling your trash and mopping the floor, are all infection-prevention strategies. And it’s all nursing, and it’s all surgical tech. You may not believe that, but even Florence Nightingale knew that was true,” explained the hospital administrator. The additional requirements include “pull[ing] their own trash and linens, sweep up and spot mop.”
Are additional pressures on nursing staff really in the best interest of both the nurses and their patients? A series of issues with understaffing and overcrowed hospitals across the county has made nursing one of the most overworked professions in the nation. Nursing advocates have long been encouraging employers to provide more benefits and support for nurses as a means of both improving morale and ensuring less likelihood of errors on the job.
“With a happy and engaged nursing staff, the results will show a direct correlation with increased patient satisfaction, which keeps the hospital in the clear when it comes to satisfaction survey reimbursement penalties from CMS,” says one hospital management consulting site. “It also instills trust and loyalty in the patients they serve.”
Unsurprisingly, doing janitorial work doesn’t appear to be one of the ways of boosting nursing morale, especially when the nursing staff is allowed no input or feedback on the proposal. In fact, the nursing staff was ordered not to speak in public at all about the new workload. “Nurses were told to ‘refrain from speaking negatively about this in an open forum where our customer can hear. If you need to vent come see me,’” reports Eyewitness News TV 3.
The new duties aren’t just a concern to nurses because of the time involved, but the potential increase for harming patients as well. The trash or linens can often contain waste with bodily fluid on it or other contamination, which could cause serious health issues if patients are subject to them. The idea has many nurses rightfully worried about potential cross-contamination, a hazard the hospital administration appears to dismiss.
The Vanderbuilt University Medical Center has not had the best history of employee relations even prior to this new staffing move. In the midst of budget cuts, and desperate to slash jobs, the hospital is in the midst of defending itself against lawsuits claiming that they have fired employees in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The hospital is also in court over accusations that it has been engaging in Medicare fraud for over a decade.
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