What Do Nurses Do in Between Patients? At This Hospital, They’re Cleaning Toilets

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.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

Sarah H....... this has nothing to do with the ACA....... It is because of greedy, for profit hospitals and their administators and insurance companies....If you think you deserve substandard care, then go to that hospital.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

This is one of the consequences of ObamCare.

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez4 years ago

This happens because it is a female dominated field.....plain and simple. I don't often play the feminism or race card but it is well suited in this situation. Infection rates are at an all time high already so my advice to you all is don't get sick or get in an accident because to get body parts chopped off because of an infection is no picnic in the park. Nurses are already overworked, under appreciated, underpaid professionals and the stress is only going to get worse and med errors are going to skyrocket as well. These are the people you depend on to carry out doctors orders and to catch doctor errors folks. This is a sad and very dangerous situation for all of us indeed! I foresee protests in the very near future and I support them all the way....

Lynnl C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

Deborah W.... your congress and the likes of Mr.Cruz will bring it down......

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

Already stretched so thin within each facility of "care", these additional forced duties not only contaminate the area but the nursing industry as a whole, forcing those who can to retreat and those who can't to limit their involvement to bare bones unless caught (no oversight or money for such).

Years of reckles spending without accountability and limits, on top of Obamacare which is both unpopular and unsustainable, will bring this once great country down faster than expected. Wait and see ...

Barbara DeFratis
Barbara DeFratis4 years ago

Bruce K., don't be too quick to blame ObamaCare. After all, our Asst. General Manager exposed our General Manager before he left. She was blaming the up-coming ObamaCare for all the cuts in hours, so he got her on the speaker phone and asked if it really was ObamaCare that was causing all the cuts or was she just padding her bonus check and we all heard her say that she was just padding her bonus check. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee-- Many Corporations Are Lead By Liars--Hospitals too, apparently.

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Pathetic. Should ask the doctors to clean too.

Karen C.
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Thanks for this article. This is a very bad idea---yes cross-contamination is a big issue, not to mention how overworked nurses already are.

Nirvana Jaganath
Nirvana Jaganath4 years ago