Ohio patients at risk as nurses fight fatigue, illness

Posted at 6:43 AM, May 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-25 08:34:59-04

An exclusive On Your Side Investigation reveals nurses in hospitals across Ohio are often placing patients at risk due to mandatory overtime that results in fatigue and exhaustion.

In other cases, nurses feel compelled to remain on the job, even while sick.

No Regulation Protections

And our investigation found, unlike the airline industry and trucking where work hours of pilots and drivers are highly regulated due to safety, Ohio nurses have no such protections.

One nurse described being so ill she was “literally grabbing a waste paper basket to throw up while trying to stabilize a patient."

In another case, a nurse described “having heart palpitations and anxiety."

And in a tragic case, the husband of one nurse suspects it was extreme fatigue that contributed to his wife’s fatal crash after he believes she fell asleep at the wheel.

“If the general population knew what was happening,” said one nurse, “they would be irate.”

Mandatory Overtime

Our investigation found mandatory overtime regarding nurses is outlawed in 18 states—but not Ohio.

“If the general population knew what was happening they would be irate.”

Nurses blame mandatory overtime and hospital staffing plans that often fail to provide adequate coverage even in critical hospital areas—including intensive care and emergency rooms—for contributing to conditions that can place patients at risk.

Ohio nurses routinely work three, 12-hour shifts but are often called back or asked to remain on the job.

Flawed Staffing Plans

Since 2008, Ohio hospitals have been required to create nurse staffing plans that include the selection, implementation and evaluation of minimum staffing levels for all inpatient care to ensure competent nursing staff in accordance with evidence based safe nursing staffing standards.

Even so, a growing number of nurses across Ohio argue that nurse staffing plans fail to provide enough nurses on shifts and creates conditions where hospitals can legally require nurses to work mandatory overtime shifts.

In addition, many nurses—even when sick—feel compelled to continue on the job for fear of both hospital discipline and a reluctance on the part of nurses to leave patients who are in need of care.

Lori Chovanak, the Executive Director of the Ohio Nurses Association, believes hospitals “are placing profits ahead of patients."

“People are coming into the health system for us to help them, not hurt them,” says Chovanak.

Exhausted Nurses

Even so, our investigation found concerns over exhausted nurses and patient safety is well documented—and hospitals know it.

As far back as 2011, the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation — the leading organization setting hospital standards across the country — warned, “the link between fatigue and adverse events is well known."

The Joint Commission included research that shows medical mistakes are “as much as three times higher when nurses work longer than 12 1/2 shifts."

Even more alarming, a recent Johns Hopkins School of Medicine report found “mistakes are now the third leading cause of death."

Still, the Ohio Hospital Association representing 221 hospitals across Ohio insists it “has not seen” evidence that staffing plans are inadequate or cases where nurses are either too sick or too exhausted to be caring for patients

And it insists that requiring hospitals to meet increased staffing levels or banning overtime is not needed because “hospitals need that flexibility to establish their own teams."