Healthcare Is Ailing and I Don’t Know the Cure

Recently, a friend of mine sent me an article about a nurse that took their life on the job. I must be honest and say that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this, but this particular situation stood out to me because of the location in which it occurred.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard of nurses committing suicide in their car or the parking deck, but this nurse chose the supply room. For me and many other nurses, the supply room was a bit of a safe haven. It was a place to decompress even for a few seconds. When the demands of the unit became a bit too much to handle at the moment, you could walk into the supply room and let off a muffled scream and some choice words before composing yourself to walk back out to face whatever obstacles were waiting on the other side.

The news of this nurse’s death comes during a time when nurses are facing unfathomable challenges. We have cases like RaDonda Vaught and Christann Gainey that have left many to wonder: What is the value of a nurse in a healthcare setting?

Fear mounts over flaws in practices that leave nurses wondering whether they will face jail time. As a director, I have heard nurses utter the sentiment of not coming in on their days off because if they are tired from working extra and make a mistake, they could be written up or worse. Many have asked the question: How do we continue to work in a system that we no longer believe has our best interest at hand? I can honestly say that I don’t have a solid answer on how to fix healthcare as the condition is far more complex than my scope of practice.

Staff nurses are mentally and physically burned out from the devastation of COVID and are slowly leaving the bedside. Travel nurses are now being brought before the government for salary caps. Although the idea of ​​being a travel nurse appeals to some, there is a sense of resentment from others who view them as mercenaries seeking profit. In my former role, I truly saw the pros and cons from a bird’s-eye view. Travelers were needed to fill the gaps caused by nurses leaving the bed, but the finance department was never pleased when a request came in for more travelers.

Undoubtedly, the workforce has changed. Long gone are the days when nurses stayed at the bedside for 20 years or longer. Many schools nursing are pushing for students to go forth and get their DNPs, which leads to more nurse practitioners but fewer nurses at the bedside. With higher education comes more options, and nurses no longer feel the need to stay at the bedside where they balance the pressure to maintain all the changing standards of their systems while upholding the highest in customer service.

We also have a generation with vastly different views than the nurses of the ’80s, ’90s, and even early 2000s. Millennials and beyond appear to value a work environment where they feel that the organization cares about their overall well-being and has their best interests in mind. Sometimes I think one of the major flaws with those at the helm of healthcare systems is that they are still treating nurses as one-dimensional units that will continue to show up no matter what, due to their altruistic internal desire to help those in need.

I spoke with a former colleague recently and we reminisced about our time starting out. We laughed about our time at the bedside and how much we actually wished we could go back to those units, but the reality hit us that it wouldn’t be the same because of the pressures to maintain immaculate documenting. Plus, customer service has risen to what feels almost unattainable at times. Several healthcare Instagram groups and Facebook pages have posts of nurses moving toward insurance and pharmaceutical companies as they wander farther and farther away from working in a hospital setting.

I have spoken to nursing students who are currently on the outside looking in and they are truly angry — so much so that some are looking into areas of nursing that don’t require any hospital experience at all. This is vastly different from when I started out, when everyone’s goal was to work in a hospital.

I do not have a cure for the ailments that healthcare is currently facing, but I worry about the path we are currently on. Nurses and so many other healthcare workers are now facing litigation, physical and verbal assault, concerns over staffing ratings, PTSD, and so much more. And the need to address these matters is imminent.

Here in New Jersey, there are very few standalone hospitals as most have merged to become larger healthcare systems; and as a result, some have lost their connection with the reason patients choose to come to that hospital in the first place. At times, policies and procedures get held up as changes require a systemwide approval and each hospital has its own culture and competencies of completing a task. What would usually take weeks in terms of changing a policy can now turn into months.

At the end of the day, the name of the hospital only goes so far, but it’s the care that the patient received that will stand the true test. What happens when those tasksed with caring for patients feel unheard and unappreciated and, to some extent, angry?

I believe that the question we are faced with is: What happens when the caregiver needs to be cared for?

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About Latoya L. Stewart

Latoya Stewart is Jamaica-born and New Jersey–raised, this millennial mom of two is navigating her way through middle management while quieting her middle-child syndrome. A graduate of UMDNJ and Rutgers University, she received her bachelor’s in journalism, history, and nursing as well as her master’s of science in nursing. Like most nurses, she she has a heart of gold and the mouth of a drunken sailor. Follow her on Instagram: @mindoftoya

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