Shhhh! We are short staffed and it’s a big secret!

I don’t understand who decided that it’s a bad thing for patient’s to know when facilities are short-staffed.

In the majority of business and establishments people just let you know upfront when they are short on staff and I think it’s a good idea. For the most part, people are more patient and lenient when it comes to waiting for their turn.

I have been approached at restaurants, beauty salons, gas stations, supermarkets, etc. just to let me know that service will take a bit longer than usual because they are short on staff. Amazingly, we wait, and when we get served we appreciate the fact that it took less time than expected. I think it shows respect. We are not just being ignored; we just need to wait a little.

Why is it that we cannot explain the same to our patients at the beginning of our shift? Instead, we just let them think that their call bells are not being answered in a timely manner because the staff is lazy or we just don’t care that they have a specific need.

Why can’t we be honest with our patients? I think they would respect us more for being upfront with them. It may decrease anxiety, unnecessary calls and frustration, all of which would lead to higher patient satisfaction. Instead we try to hid it like a big sin.

This is a reality for many facilities. There are budget cuts, a very small float pool (if any), people get sick, positions not filled. There are many reasons why there might not be the appropriate staff at any given day, and lets not talk about the weekends!

The majority of the patients, especially if they have been in a specific facility for over a week, know when the place is short-staffed.

When you finally get to that particular patient after taking care of at least five other people, you apologize for being late. This inevitably leads to the question from the patient, “Are you guys short today”? And you HAVE to say NO. This makes us look really bad! We might as well say, “No, I just decided to ignore your call until now to upset you.”

And on top of it, we (the staff) get “friendly” reminders from the people that leave us to work the floor short-staffed that “we have received many complaints from patients and their families that call bells are not being answered in a timely manner.”

No kidding!!!

I would like to see management take good care of the patients and answer all those call bells in a timely manner and I’m not talking charge nurses or even managers. I’m talking the administration that decides overtime is not approved and that while we used to need six nurses to treat thirty patients, it’s now okay to do it with four due to budget cuts. These decisions are handed down under the pretense that we’ll still deliver the same quality of care in the same amount of time.

But this spits in the face of recent studies that prove less staff correlates to a lower quality of care. For example, this 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine (via chrisjohnsonmd.comsuggests that mortality increases with nurse shortfalls.

Of course, we can’t completely put an end to short-staffed days. That’s not what this is about. I simply want us to be more open and honest about it when we are down a member of the staff. The transparency will lead to better patient relationships and lower stress levels among those working. And it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this simple change in policy would have a positive effect on patient outcomes.

But if it’s so shameful to be short-staffed that the patients should never – under any circumstances – know about it, we might as well staff appropriately at all times and avoid the situation altogether. Right?

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