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US healthcare workers sound alarm on staffing shortage

Concerned healthcare workers in Illinois and Indiana are calling on The Joint Commission to add a safe staffing standard to its accreditation process.

Yolanda Stewart, a patient care technician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, once injured her back so badly on the job that she couldn’t work for six months. But when she talks about that time, she doesn’t mention her own pain. Instead, she talks about the patient she’d been trying to help, recalling his extreme discomfort.

Because the unit was short-staffed, Stewart lifted and turned the patient on her own. The move helped the patient but cost Stewart. Many healthcare workers have similar stories, she says, adding, “Working short-staffed is a safety issue for workers and patients.”

In fact, reports show that lack of staff in hospitals leads to higher patient infection and death rates. 

Covid-19 has greatly worsened the healthcare staffing shortage, with 1 in 5 hospital employees — from environmental services workers to nurses — leaving the field. Hospitals have grappled with staffing issues since before the pandemic, but Covid-19 highlighted the challenges — and exacerbated them.

Now, concerned healthcare workers throughout Illinois and Indiana are sounding the alarm. They’re calling on The Joint Commission — the third-party agency that accredits 22,000 US healthcare organisations — to add a safe staffing standard to its accreditation process, similar to student-to-teacher ratio requirements that many states have.

“We have all kinds of rules to make sure that hospitals are safe: We make sure that healthcare workers wash their hands before procedures, that they wear gloves and protective equipment, that bed sheets are changed between patients. Yet there are no statewide regulations about hospital staffing levels,” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley at a demonstration in early June. 

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Source: Chicago Health, 8 June 2022


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