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Naomi Campbell, Russell Crowe, and patients without enough nurses

November 19, 2006 -- Today the Calgary Herald ran a short piece about reports by the United Nurses of Alberta, a union, that "nurses are being physically abused and verbally threatened because of staff and bed shortages in Calgary hospitals." The article, "Calgary nurses blame shortages for abuse," might have explored the negative effects of this situation in more detail. Nurse short-staffing can kill people and drive nurses from the bedside. Abuse of nurses can lead to injury and burnout, and exacerbate the nursing shortage. But on the whole the piece offers a good quick look at this serious problem.

The article reports that "health-care workers" say patients who face longer waits for treatment and other problems "are taking out their frustrations on nurses more than ever." The piece quotes Tanice Olson, a "day surgery nurse" and United Nurses official:

Patients are attacking nurses. They're hitting them, they're scratching them, they're throwing phones at them...Everything is backed up. We're short of beds. People are waiting longer for care. And the longer they wait, the more anxious and frustrated they become.

The piece also cites data about the working conditions. It says that documented reports by nurses to the Professional Responsibility Committee about unsafe working conditions in Calgary hospitals have risen significantly, apparently more than doubling from the prior year.

The article says that officials from the Calgary Health Region "admit more nurses have to be hired and working conditions are stressful, mainly because of the city's population boom." The piece reports that relevant data shows that this Region has 851 nurses per 100,000 people, which is well under the Alberta average of 1,021. The piece might have sought additional comment or data on the extent to which the population boom is the main factor in the relative shortage of nurses in Alberta.

The piece might also have briefly explored the effects of this situation in a bit more detail. Nurse short-staffing leads to worse patient outcomes, as research shows. It also drives burned-out nurses away from the bedside, or out of the profession entirely. At the same time, abuse of nurses--the caregivers most likely to be on the front lines when patients and families become unhappy with problems in care--is a significant problem that contributes to nursing burnout and the nursing shortage.

We thank the Calgary Herald for this helpful piece.

See the article "Calgary nurses blame shortages for abuse" in the November 19, 2006 edition of the Calgary Herald.


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