Nurses Report Being Traumatized by Patient Care

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Three years into the pandemic, moral distress, staffing problems, and workplace violence continue to plague nurses across the country, according to results of the latest survey in a series conducted by National Nurses United (NNU).

“Nurses are experiencing alarming levels of moral distress and moral injury due to the unsafe working conditions,” NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, said in a press release.

Among the 2,575 nurses surveyed, 69% said staffing problems were “slightly or much worse” in recent months — a 47.8% jump from a year ago, and a 20.2% increase over the union’s September 2021 survey.

Moreover, 26.5% of nurses reported “floating” to positions in clinical areas that demand new skills or are otherwise “outside of their competency,” a jump from the 17.8% in the September survey. Yet 46% said they did not receive any preparation or training before being transferred to work in a unit outside of their own expertise, compared to 44.3% in September.

Notably, NNU survey results are not available in full. The union did not immediately respond to requests to expand on the online survey’s methodology or limitations.

PPE Use, Overtime, Screening

According to NNU, their latest survey raised safety concerns related to the pandemic. Only about one-third of survey respondents said their hospital has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to respond in the event of a “rapid COVID surge.” And six in ten hospital nurses said they are still reusing single-use PPE.

Also troubling was that only 71.8% of hospital nurses reported that they wear a respirator for all COVID-positive patient encounters, an improvement, however, from the previous survey (60.8%).

Similarly, 23.8% of hospital RNs said every visitor is screened for recent COVID exposures, an increase from 38.5% in September. Approximately 29% of hospital nurses said they are notified of COVID exposures but “not in a timely fashion,” according to the NNU press release.

Additionally, 64.5% of hospital nurses surveyed said their hospitals use “excessive overtime to staff units,” compared with 49.3% of respondents in September, and 72.3% of hospital nurses said they saw the use of travel nurses in the previous month increase.

Violence at Work, Moral Distress

Close to half of hospital nurses surveyed reported a “small or significant” rise in workplace violence compared with 30.6% in September 2021 and 21.9% in March 2021, relative increases of 57% and 119%, respectively.

What’s more, 56% of nurses surveyed said they “feel traumatized by their experiences caring for patients,” a 65.7% increase over September.

In addition, approximately 83.5% of nurses said they feel stressed more often than before the pandemic; 77.2% feel anxious more often now than before the pandemic; and 68.7% said they feel sad or depressed more often than before the pandemic (reflecting an increase of 56.1%, 53.2%, and 64.6% over September).

This latest survey also revealed a number of mental health-related concerns that each increased from the prior survey:

  • 66.8% of hospital RNs fear contracting COVID
  • 74.6% fear infecting a family member
  • 58.4% have trouble sleeping

And approximately 23% of nurses said they sought treatment for a mental health condition tied to patient care, an 87% increase over September.

The NNU survey was conducted online from February 2 to March 20 of this year. Respondents included both members of the NNU and non-union nurses from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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    Shannon Firth has been reporting on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

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