Division of Labor: Nurses as Housekeepers

sweep2When a patient vacates a room for home, what do most nurses do?  They get on the phone and call housekeeping to come up and prepare the room for the next patient, including disinfecting the area for bacteria that may remain.

However, Vanderbilt University hospital wants to change this very common scenario.  They think that nurses should sweep, mop, take out garbage, and otherwise contribute to the cleansing of the unit they work on.

Now, most nurses do clean because we can’t help it, and Vanderbilt isn’t suggesting doing away with housekeeping entirely.  What they are suggesting, though, is adding another duty to a nurse’s already long list of responsibilities.

When will it stop?  When will our responsibility hit a limit?  Should nurses be forced to do light housekeeping work if it means that the costs are lowered for the facility?

Nurse’s Job Description

Nurses are responsible for patients, and I think every nurse agrees on that one.  Where does that responsibility end, though, and what more can be added to a nurse’s job description?

Infection control and keeping the patient free from danger are both tasks that are routinely delegated to housekeeping.  Perhaps nurses are complaining too much when asked to take on the added chore of disinfecting a room because it actually makes the patients safer.

There is no doubt that housekeeping can certainly be delegated this responsibility.  Isn’t that what we do with countless other nursing functions besides assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and evaluation?

Honestly, it isn’t such a miscarriage of justice when approached from the patient care angle.  We’ve lost CNAs and other support staff, and it may be just a matter of time before we lose housekeeping, too.

Adding Duties to the Nurse’s Role

Now that we’ve established that housekeeping could possibly be a nursing duty, we can see why nursing administration wants to add it back.  However, most nurses are overworked and underpaid, and adding another job into the mix is certain to send most nurses running for the hills.

Some hospitals have great perks for nurses, such as IV teams, rapid response teams, and admissions nurses, but that doesn’t mean every hospital has them.  Why do we consider housekeeping as something that is a right and not a privilege?

I think many nurses would revolt at the idea of taking on housekeeping duties.  Cleaning the station, clearing away trays, and organizing a room are one level of housekeeping, but asking us to clean bathrooms, empty garbage, and turnover patient rooms may be too much.

Nurses would be constantly torn between doing extra for their patient – listening to stories, giving thorough assessments, and teaching – and getting through their extra work.  In the end, it comes down to the patient, and this is no way to improve patient care.

Cutting Corners and Patient Care

When a nurse has too many responsibilities, patient care cannot help but suffer.  Housekeeping is a vital part of the flow of a nursing floor – as important as any support staff – and cutting their role will only hurt the people we are trying to protect.

If we worked in a factory and were asked to do more, it would be unpleasant, but necessary if we want to keep our jobs.  In nursing, though, when we are asked to do more, that time has to come from somewhere, and it usually comes from patient care.

From calling doctors to giving meds to assessing a patient who is slowly going south, nurses have much more on their minds than whether the windowsill has been dusted.  It is important to keep that focus for the health, safety, and welfare of our patients.

Administration is going to try to cut as many corners as possible, and this is one way they can.  As nurses, we have to stand up for the danger this will cause patients, possibly becoming whistleblowers, and fight for the rights of not only nurses but patients, as well.


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