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Ebola: Infection Control Resources Make All the Difference

September 16, 2014

This post is follow-up to our widely shared post (“Ebola: A Nurse Epidemiologist Puts the Outbreak in Perspective”) by AJN clinical editor Betsy Todd. The author, Amanda Anderson, is a critical care nurse and graduate student in New York City who is currently doing a graduate placement at AJN two days a week. Her last post for this blog is here.

Ebola virus viron

By CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. CDC image library.

I don’t know a single nurse who likes caring for multiple isolation patients. The process of donning a new gown, pair of gloves, and mask each time you enter an isolated patient’s room is arduous and time-consuming. Personal protective equipment (PPE) clogs the garbage cans and can be hot and confining.

PPE has been in the news quite a bit lately because of Ebola. An interview with Liberian nurses by Hunter College’s Diana Mason on her WBAI radio show Healthstyles revealed that the Liberian Ministry of Health estimates 75% of virus victims are women—mostly nurses and caregivers. Nurses in West Africa might really love some of those pesky yellow isolation gowns.

Ebola can be a messy virus. Infected people have copious diarrhea and vomiting, often containing blood. The basics of care for Ebola patients should not be new to us; HIV and hepatitis can be spread in many of the same ways. We’ve got little to fear if we follow CDC guidelines for PPE and infection control. But in parts of Africa, where supplies we take for granted are scant, nurses and caregivers can’t even hold the hand of a dying patient or family member, much less clean them, without fearing for their lives.

As Mason’s interview reveals, many nurses are assigned 25 or more patients each shift in hospitals that lack electricity, running water, and gloves. (In an article for Buzzfeed, Jina Moore describes a nurse working in an Ebola ward who wears the isolation kit sent to her by the Liberian Ministry of Health. The kit includes a shower cap, gloves, and rubber bands for her wrists. Her ankles and neck are exposed, peeking out from her own short scrubs.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Enterovirus D68: Precautions, Surveillance, Yes; Alarm, No

September 15, 2014

By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor

EV68-infographicAs news coverage focuses on the latest clusters of suspected—and, in some instances, confirmed—cases of human enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) as they occur in successive regions of the U.S., here’s a quick primer on what is known about EV-D68.

Is this a new, dangerous virus?
EV-D68, a non-polio enterovirus, is not a “novel” virus—the term used to describe emerging infections such as SARS and MERS. It’s more accurate to describe it as the CDC does: it is an “increasingly recognized” cause of respiratory infections, especially in children.

EV-D68 was first isolated in 1962. While reports of EV-D68 since then have been sporadic, the CDC in 2011 reported on clusters of this viral infection in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona as well as in Asia and Europe. It’s likely that there are hundreds or even thousands of EV-D68 infections every year in the U.S. But as with many other viral infections, they will range in severity, and an infection that looks like “a cold” isn’t usually brought to the attention of a health care provider.

According to the CDC, most enterovirus infections are actually asymptomatic; this may be the case with EV-D68 as well.

Diagnostic testing for EV-D68 involves RT-PCR and gene sequencing. Most hospital labs therefore are unable to test for it. Some readily available diagnostic tests do identify “enterovirus” but don’t type the virus further; some tests misidentify EV-D68 as a rhinovirus. (Specimens from suspect cases in the U.S. therefore almost always are handled by CDC labs.)

Because treatment is symptomatic, the lack of a widely available test for EV-D68 is not an issue for the patient. But as more sensitive and specific tests become more widely available, more cases will be correctly identified, and we can learn more about the course of the disease.

Genetically similar to cause of common cold.
EV-D68 belongs to a genus of viruses that includes polioviruses, rhinoviruses, coxsackieviruses, and echoviruses. It is not “polio-like.” Biologically and epidemiologically, it is most similar to human rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold.

Severe respiratory infections in children? Visitor restrictions?
While we are seeing reports of severe respiratory illness in patients with suspected or confirmed EV-D68, it should be noted, as the CDC points out, that many/most of those hospitalized with this and other respiratory infections are people with chronic conditions such as asthma or other health issues. Visitor restriction is a routine response in any hospital when there is a cluster of respiratory infections in the community. Read the rest of this entry »

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End-of-Life Discussions and the Uneasy Role of Nurses

September 11, 2014

Amanda Anderson, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse in New York City and enrolled in the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing/Baruch College of Public Affairs dual master’s degree program in nursing administration and public administration. She is currently doing a graduate placement at AJN two days a week, working on a variety of projects. Her personal blog is called This Nurse Wonders.

Evelyn Simak/ via Wikimedia Commons

Evelyn Simak/ via Wikimedia Commons

Nurse and writer Theresa Brown wrote a piece for this past Sunday’s New York Times on the dilemmas physicians face when their patients want to stop aggressive treatment (the latest installment of Brown’s quarterly column, What I’m Reading, is in the September issue of AJN [paywall]).

Brown’s Times column talks about physicians who have trouble letting patients go and instead push for more unnecessary and often unwanted treatment. She describes a case in which—after palliative care has been decided upon by the patient’s family members, the palliative care team, and even the heartbroken oncologist—the patient’s primary care physician intervenes and pushes for still more futile treatment. (Much of the article delves into the broader issue of palliative care and the benefits it has for patients in many stages of chronic illness.)

Have you ever disagreed with a physician’s choice to continue treatments in a situation where you thought these treatments were against a patient’s real desires or best interests? Have you felt cornered in your care? What conversations did you start—or want to start but maybe felt you couldn’t?

Many times, we nurses at the bedside are afraid to speak openly with our patients about end of life, especially when physicians have different views on what should be the patient’s treatment goals. The situation feels thorny, fraught. Moral distress—when you know the right thing to do for your patient but don’t feel you have the ability to do it—can lead to burnout, high turnover rates, and many emotional stressors among nurses. Often, we simply can’t say what we want to say, despite a duty to our patients to accurately educate them on their care and conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Patient’s Inner Soundtrack from Better Times

September 8, 2014
Illustration by Gingermoth. All rights reserved.

Illustration by Gingermoth. All rights reserved.

She was at high risk for developing bedsores and it was important that she be turned every two hours, but when approached by staff, she would scratch, punch, and spit. Her speech consisted of expletives, which she screamed in a shrill, piercing voice.

Music can soothe, comfort, engage, bring a recognizable world into an alien one. And, crucially, it can allow a nurse or other caregiver a chance to provide badly needed care to someone with dementia or mental illness who is agitated, confused, hostile, or terrified.

In this case, the place is Detroit and the music is Motown. The short passage above is from the Reflections essay in the September issue of AJN. “Playing Her Song: The Power of Music” is not the first submission we’ve had about the ways music can reach patients when words and other measures fail.

Putting on some music would seem a simple kind of strategy, but it may be worth a try in some situations that seem otherwise hopeless. Please give the short essay a read. Reflections are free.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor/blog editor

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Study Clarifies How Staff Nurses Use Research in Practice

September 5, 2014

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Most health care professionals agree that it’s important to apply research findings to real-life practice. Indeed, several studies have shown that nurses place a high value on doing just that. Yet numerous barriers continue to prevent or hamper the implementation of evidence-based practice (EBP).

Table 4. ‘Of the tools available to you at work and/or home, which tools do you use?’

Table 4. ‘Of the tools available to you at work and/or home, which tools do you use?’

To learn more, Linda Yoder and colleagues surveyed nearly 800 staff nurses in an acute care multihospital system. They sought to determine the extent to which these RNs used research findings in their practice; what types of knowledge they used; and what personal, professional, and organizational factors enhanced or hindered their use of research. In one of this month’s two CE features, “Staff Nurses’ Use of Research to Facilitate Evidence-Based Practice,” Yoder and colleagues report on their findings. Here’s a short summary.

Methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive, online survey design was used. The survey, which asked about use of research findings in practice and EBP participation, was placed on the hospital system intranet.
Results: The forms of knowledge that staff nurses reported relying on most were their personal experience with patients, conferences, hospital policies and procedures, physician colleagues, and nursing peers. Although a variety of resources were available for help in locating research and implementing EBP, respondents reported many of the same barriers that have been reported in other studies: lack of time, lack of resources, and lack of knowledge. Although their attitudes about research utilization and EBP were positive overall, respondents expected unit-based educators and clinical nurse specialists to collect and synthesize the research for them.
Conclusions: These findings are similar to those of other recent studies in this area. A great deal of work remains to be done if we are to inform, educate, and assist staff nurses in using research and implementing EBP. It may be unrealistic to expect bedside nurses to add these activities to their duties unless they are compensated for the time and have the support of master’s- or doctorally prepared nurses to serve as EBP coaches and champions.

The bigger picture. In closing, Yoder and colleagues call for a kind of climate change, stating, “We believe, as do others, that nurse leaders, managers, and educators have a responsibility to create a culture that supports EBP and research utilization.”

For more details, read the article, which is free online. And please weigh in and share your own experiences!


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Nursing Homes Need Nurses

September 4, 2014

By Amy M. Collins, managing editor

nursing home

Photo by Ulrich Joho, via Flickr.

Recently, the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) released updated nursing home inspection data, which is “derived from a large file that is split up for easier use by members.” (Members get a data set containing three years of the most severe deficiencies found during inspections, as well as current ratings assigned by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS]. To register for membership and gain access to more detailed information, click here.)

A news release put out by AHCJ based on their analysis of these ratings isn’t pretty. The latest number of deficiencies recorded by the CMS (which range from “isolated incident of actual harm” to “widespread immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety”) has reached 16,806.

Medicare ratings themselves have also been called into question in a recent article suggesting that nursing homes with the highest ratings may be gaming the system. Despite these ratings being the gold standard in the industry, the data they are based upon on is largely self-reported by the nursing homes and not verified by the government. Often, details such as fines and other enforcement actions by the state, as well as complaints filed by consumers with state agencies, are left out.

Could part of the problem be there aren’t enough nurses in nursing homes? An article in the New York Times states that, in evaluating Nursing Home Compare, the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination estimates that at least 11.4% of nursing homes don’t have RNs available around the clock (since data is self-reported, this could be higher). Yet studies show that care is improved when there are more RNs in nursing homes. (We published a 2005 original research study that found that increasing the amount of time that RNs spend with long-stay nursing home residents reduces pressure ulcers, hospitalization, and urinary tract infections.)

Anecdotally, I can say that I am sometimes dismayed by what I’ve seen in the nursing homes my grandmother has been in. There always seems to be a lack of staff—and with so many residents these days suffering from varying levels of dementia and memory problems, staff are needed more than ever. I’ve spoken with nurses and nurses’ assistants working in these homes, and staff-to-resident ratio is always a common complaint of those working there. In my grandmother’s current home, residents are piling in by the dozen, while the number of staff seems to remain the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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Labor Day Déjà Vu – Nurses’ Views of Work, Then and Now

September 2, 2014

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Photo from otisarchives4, via Flickr.

Photo from otisarchives4, via Flickr.

If you like nursing history, there’s a new blog called Echoes and Evidence by the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. (The first post draws on a 2005 AJN article on how nurses over 100 years ago responded to a series of typhoid epidemics in Philadelphia.)

Because AJN is over 100 years old (115 next year), it has a rich archive that I’ve been digging into recently (see my post from last week about an article Virginia Henderson wrote for AJN 50 years ago, and from late June, about nurses and D-Day).

So it seems especially fitting, just after Labor Day, to point to a January 1953 article by Sister Mary Barbara Ann, a former president of the Iowa Nurses Association (INA), which detailed findings from a survey of 223 general duty nurses in Iowa to learn their opinions of the hospitals in which they worked. I won’t present her exact findings here—we’ve made the article free until the end of September: just click through to the PDF. (Subscribers can always access the archives.) But here’s how she summarized what she learned:

“They [general duty nurses] are asking only for reasonable working conditions in which they can feel happy and secure. They are pleading for recognition and appreciation for what they are as persons and as nurses. They are asking for personnel policies which they have a voice in formulating, which are written and available to all, and which will be strictly adhered to by both nurses and administrators.”

Sound familiar?

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