A Nurse’s Thoughts on Healthcare during Patient Safety Awareness Week

Over 30 years ago, as a brand-new graduate nurse, I was starry-eyed and ready to change the world – one patient’s life at a time.

Over time, I discovered that my passion to make a difference paired with my ability to communicate and connect with others could work well in other avenues of healthcare such as quality, patient safety, and regulatory.

I wanted to facilitate processes that made it as easy as possible for every healthcare professional to do the right thing for every single patient every single time.

However, sometimes the best intentions may backfire and may even make it more difficult for the patient care frontline to do their jobs – particularly if initiatives outlive the problem they were designed to solve.

Let me explain, pre-pandemic there were more nurses and more time for them to participate in performance improvement projects and influence the practice changes that impacted their every day. Checklists and audits created healthy reminders of steps toward best evidenced-based practice.

But then the whole world, and in particular our healthcare world, was changed by that invisible-to-the-naked-eye enemy. COVID-19. We were already on shaky ground with new nurses not being educated quickly enough to replace retiring ones and high rates of burnout during the best of times. But now as many as 1 in 5 fulltime healthcare professionals are leaving those roles. Suicide rates among healthcare professionals – which were never low – are now higher than ever.

So, actions like asking a charge nurse to complete daily audits or pulling a nurse manager into multiple performance improvement actives may have worked a few years ago. But asking those same things now when charge nurses and managers are often pulled into staffing with full patient loads doesn’t feel like supporting them anymore.

I absolutely know that processes in healthcare need to be checked and audited. But I also know that throwing one more thing on already stretched – sometimes traumatized even – healthcare team members can be that “final straw” that causes them to call it quits.

For me, personally, I am coming full circle in my career and actually taking a career break in order to regroup and find ways to wear scrubs more and carry “corrective clipboards” less. (Plus, this break coincides will with my taking some long overdue time for some healing and processing of a couple strong blows that have hit my personal life hard in recent years). I know not everyone has the ability to do this, but I believe there are some things everyone in healthcare leadership can easily do to be a blessing-not-a-burden, asset-not-an-a$$-kicker, supporter-not-a-destroyer, and an encourager-not-an-enforcer. (You get the idea).

  • Wear scrubs
    • Sometimes it’s as simple as losing the polyester power suit or dress and being a little more relatable
  • Jump in and do something tangible for them!
    • You may be like me and it’s been a minute since your clinical days. It may not be safe for you to take a whole load of patients. But if you’re more on the administrative side of health care these days, even taken 10-15 minutes out of your day to answer phones or call lights or calm a confused patients could make the difference and make you much easier to listen to when you give them correction or advice.
  • Uplift more than you correct.
    • Remember when all the leadership gurus were touting the importance of sandwiching correction or any other information that may weigh someone down between positive/uplifting comments? Well, that is more important than ever!

Just being present and listening can mean more than you ever know. Now more than ever, healthcare professionals may feel warn and torn – like a ragamuffin. If they see your heart, time, and intention – you may be just the oasis a weary soul needs.

My Prayer for Healthcare

Walter Cronkite made this statement decades ago, long before COVID-19, the hyper-politicization of healthcare, supply crises, and staffing shortages like we’ve never seen before. So… the truth of these words rings even more loudly today.

However, I believe the current tipping point of my industry is birthing the #innovative “out of the box” thinking so necessary for much needed positive and lasting #change.

And, by “out of the box”, I truly mean out of big boxy hospital buildings and through screens into homes, thanks to innovative uses of #telemedicine.

As lauded at the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare professionals truly are amazing, caring superheroes. However, even the greatest superheroes cannot sustain changes in a broken system.

Praying that all of these crises will facilitate the mending of our country’s healthcare system rather than accelerating its implosion.

Ways to “Love Your Neighbor” during a surging pandemic

I know there were lots of thoughts and prayers for the healthcare community at the beginning of the pandemic. But it is even more needed now. The number of patients very sick with COVID-19 is once again on the rise. But the difference from the early days is that those taking care of them are oh so very weary. Please pray for the following:

🙏 Strength for the ALL healthcare professionals whether they clean rooms, serve food, run hospitals, or prescribe and provide vital treatments, etc….

🙏 Protection for healthcare workers…. Although vaccines can help prevent and/or strengthen immunity to not get as sick from COVID-19, those who choose to be around highly infected patients (many of whom have chosen not to be vaccinated) as a part of their profession are still very much at risk. Plus their sheer exhaustion can weaken their immunity. Also, rates of mental decline and suicide are increasing within the healthcare community.

🙏 That we would continue to have everything we need to care for each patient…. From masks to life-saving medications like Remdesivir, please pray for supplies to
be replenished and to get to where they are needed.

🙏 For everyone in our communities to care for their neighbors through great hand hygiene, masking when out in public, social distancing as much as possible, and staying home if they even have a sniffle until they have a negative COVID-19 test.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support.

A much needed reminder….

I’m not gonna lie…. Healthcare has never been an easy profession. Yes – it is so very rewarding…. but oh so challenging.

And, with the past couple years bringing unimaginable challenges – it’s hard not to have a bit of trepidation going into 2022 filled with thoughts like these:

Will this abominable virus surge again?

Will I lose more colleagues and friends?

How long can we sustain caring for such a large influx of patients?

Will we fight alone or will the general public support us in our battle rather than fight against us in every attempt made to help everyone survive this (masking, social distancing, vaccines, etc.)?

So…. the words spoken as we began our leadership huddle in prayer this morning lifted my heart as they helped silence the fearful voices in m my head:

“God, whatever this new year brings – You come with it.”

You may not be working in healthcare during one of the deadliest pandemics of all history, but I bet you’re going through something. And I imagine you don’t want to be blindsided by more traumatic events as we roll into a new year either….

So take solace in this, friend. Whatever you are walking into in 2022, your Maker is already there.

Lesson from the Sunsphere

Knoxville has this Sunsphere from the World’s Fair one year. There’s another city or two that has a shiny sphere included in the skyline. This one is different though. It sparkles and glows in the sunlight and moonlight without the need for the electricity that flashes across the other cities’ spheres.

You see, each panel that forms the sphere is filled with 24 karat gold dust. It’s because the gold has been crushed that it reflects the light so beautifully.

So, if you’re feeling crushed by what’s going on in your world or the world at large, please hold on to the hope that the very thing that’s crushing you now will one day give you the ability to better reflect all that is beautiful and good.

What crushed you is the very thing that will help you brighten the dark places in this world.

Shine on…..

The Meaning of the Ring I Wear

Since there isn’t much left of May, I thought I’d post the picture of the ring I wear for Mental Health Awareness month. Mental illness is not only survivable, it can also form a strength, resilience, and empathy like little else can. However – if unspoken, unadressed, and untreated it can kill – or cause life to feel like a walking death.

After coming through a long dark season in my life that would have killed me had I not reached out for help – I had this ring designed. I borrowed the semicolon from a movement that started some years back using the punctuation mark as as a symbol for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Just as a semicolon indicates there is more of the sentence to come, it became a declarations that “My story isn’t over!”

And – as for the Greek symbols, my Maker has many Names, but one of my favorites is “The Alpha and Omega” which describes Him as the Beginning and the End – the Eternal One.

I decided to combine the symbols into one I wear all the time to remind me of this: My story’s not over because it’s all wrapped up in His Eternal Story.

So… if you’re feeling listless and lifeless inside because of this strange season our world is in or for any other reason – please reach out and tell someone. You are not alone… but continued hiding will make you feel like you are.

Please keep the pages of your story turning because you are a very important chapter in the story of our world and the story of our God.

Reflections on Reflections

The Tennessee River at Dawn; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

When the water is still, it better reflects all that surrounds it: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Maker God, as we continue to move through a season where circumstances have forced a surreal stillness of our whole world, may we not look away from what the reflections reveal.

Rather, may we gaze, learn, and change… for Your glory and for the good of each other.

May Things Never Be The Same

Our God doesn’t push us into categories or classes. Hopefully and prayerfully one of the lessons of this crisis we’re all traveling through together is to let man-made preferential categories and classes fall away.

A rockstar or athlete is no more valuable than someone in food service or on a cleaning or construction crew. A pastor is not more special than the members of his or her congregation. Those who work in the home are not less valuable than those who go into the office everyday.

Maker God, may we come out of this strange season better understanding the value of each and every human life You have crafted.

May this season of wearing masks unmask the lies that have been imbedded into our culture and even our churches.

May hierarchies and patriarchies crumble as we all are reminded of the preciousness and fragility of our humanness and of our complete dependency on our Maker and each other.

A Lesson on Stillness from a River

I learn a lot from this river. Take note of the difference between the water under the bridge compared to the rest of the river. It’s the same rainy day for all the water. But the water under the bridge is smooth and still rather than being all ruffled by the rain.

The bridge reminds me of a Shelter that provides stillness for our souls when all the world’s a storm.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” – Psalms‬ ‭91:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Palm Sunday in a Pandemic

Jesus didn’t enter Jerusalem with chariots and entourages. Rather, he was carried in by humility on a young donkey. No, we can’t gather today with palm branches waved while we declare our praise. But on the humility of our enforced separation, grief of lives lost and and a world so suddenly changed, and all facades that we are in control now shattered – perhaps Jesus’ intersection with our lives on this strange Palm Sunday will be an even more glorious ride into our lives.