Healthcare workers are more likely to have health issues due to their jobs, and nurses are especially prone to it given how much face time they spend with patients. Sick, unhealthy nurses can’t perform as well at their jobs and put both themselves and their patients in a vulnerable spot. If you’re an employer wondering how you can support the health of your nurses, here are eight practical steps you can take, from providing the right PPE to offering mental health support.
Give them PPE.
In the early days of the pandemic, there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to go around, forcing nurses to re-use what PPE they did have and/or work in partial PPE. Thankfully, those days are over now, and manufacturing capacity is mostly back to normal. This means that you can provide nurses with all the disposable face masks, respirators, gowns, caps, bulk hand sanitizer, and other PPE they need. Make sure that each nurse receives a fitting for the mask, as a proper fit is essential for respirators and other PPE to provide the highest level of protection.
Give them time off when sick.
If a nurse comes in sick with an infectious disease such as COVID-19, they could potentially give it to their fellow staff, patients, or both. Make sure that they are up-to-date on their vaccinations, in order to reduce their chances of getting sick and give them time off if they do come down with something. If they come into work and infect other nurses, you’ll have even less staff to take care of patients, which increases the chance of negative patient outcomes, as well as situations like negligence that can put you at risk for liability.
Maintain a full staff.
If you can’t let nurses take time off when they’re sick because you don’t have a full staff, then you need to work on hiring enough people to get your staff up to full capacity. Having a low nurse-to-patient ratio causes all sorts of problems, and not just nurses not being able to rest and recover when they are sick. It can create a negative cycle where nurses quit or refuse job offers because they know they will be overworked and have to take on more patients than they can realistically care for. You might need to go on a significant hiring spree in order to bring on enough nurses at once to alleviate the problem.
Follow patient protocols.
Having patient protocols in place, and making sure that nurses follow them, will help to keep both them and patients healthy. These safety protocols take many forms, from ensuring that nurses wear full PPE when treating COVID-19 positive patients to having at least two nurses lift a patient to avoid dropping them accidentally. Periodically review your facility to make sure that your protocols are still up to date and that all staff is following them.
Keep a clean facility.
Speaking of your facility, you should make sure that the janitorial staff is systematically cleaning every area, taking special care to disinfect rooms that hold patients with COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Many different diseases are transmitted through surface contact, so sanitizing everything is key for keeping transmission down among both nurses and the rest of your staff. You should also get HVAC professionals to examine your ventilation system to see if there are any upgrades you can make to reduce transmission via the air.
Provide healthy foods and beverages.
Eating a balanced diet is important for maintaining a healthy weight and immune system and for heading off gastrointestinal problems. Unfortunately, most nurses don’t have time to run out for lunch or even to make healthy meals at home every day to bring to work. Thus, they end up eating whatever is available in the break room or cafeteria regardless of whether or not the food is healthy.
If your facility only has cheap, unhealthy, unpalatable food, then make it a goal to upgrade your cafeteria menus and snack machines to delicious yet healthy meals. Your nurses and other staff will greatly appreciate it, especially since they have to eat it every day.
Promote wellness challenges.
Many employers offer wellness programs to promote physical health, so if your facility doesn’t already do this, consider creating one. These programs include resources and often incentives for quitting smoking, losing weight, and other physical health initiatives. Many of them are tied to health insurance and offer discounts or other rewards for participating in the wellness program.
While these wellness programs are usually offered to all staff members, you might want to create a track specifically for nurses, who experience unique health challenges as a result of the nature of their jobs. For instance, working the night shift can make it difficult to connect with friends for social support, while spending 12+ hours on your feet all day can lead to lower body issues. Make sure that your wellness program is specifically designed to support nurses’ physical health.
Offer mental health support.
Health isn’t only about the physical aspect; it’s also about the mental components. Being a nurse is an incredibly stressful experience, and many of them are under even more pressure since the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure that your employer’s health insurance covers mental health support such as psychologist and psychiatrist visits. If your facility has a Department of Psychiatry, you might want to tap them to create a mental wellness program for nurses that includes regular check-ins, as well as resources about coping strategies and finding a therapist.
Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system and deserve to have their physical and mental health supported by their employers. Follow these steps to help your nurses stay healthy while on and off the clock.