On the afternoon of Terry Cawthorn’s 45th birthday, her life changed forever. According to a recent report by National Public Radio, the North Carolina registered nurse was lifting an obese patient from a stretcher after a Caesarean section when she suffered a severe injury to her lumbar spine. By the end of the day, she was completely disabled, no longer capable of walking or standing. She was fired from her nursing job shortly afterwards. A member of staff walked into Cawthorn’s hospital room as she recovered from back surgery and handed her a notice of termination.
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Cawthorn is not alone in her situation. Many nurses in America find themselves in a similar predicament, according to current research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospital administrators are often unwilling to pay attention to injury claims filed by nursing staff. These claims are frequently dismissed, ignored or discounted, as a workers’ compensation attorney in Woodstock is aware. Many nurses are not offered the rehabilitation and benefits they deserve. Instead, they are fired.
Nursing staff face an elevated risk of work injury
Nursing is a dangerous job. Staff in hospitals are exposed daily to hazardous pathogens, infectious diseases and the possibility of patient assaults. The biggest hazard in patient care is the risk of musculoskeletal injury. According to BLS statistics, more than one out of every 50 nursing assistants and orderlies will suffer a disabling job-related musculoskeletal trauma during a given year. This figure is equivalent to the risk faced by active duty firefighters. It is more than triple the risk faced by construction workers. Nursing advocates argue that it is unacceptably high.
Why are nurses injured so frequently?
Nurses and nursing assistants must lift, transfer, turn and bathe hundreds of patients. Many of these patients are overweight or obese. As Americans get fatter, nursing becomes a more strenuous job. Some patients are also uncooperative, comatose or otherwise unable to help with the work of physical transfers. The nurse bears the brunt of the physical stress. Many hospitals and clinics are short-staffed, forcing nurses to lift heavy patients without any assistance from colleagues.
The numbers behind nursing injuries
Statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer a sobering image of the risks encountered by American nurses. The following CDC figures show the current situation in U.S. hospitals:
- The average registered nurse is aged approximately 45, the same age as Terry Cawthorn was when she suffered her career-ending back injury.
- Obesity rates are skyrocketing among American patients, with as many as one-third of patients in some states arriving at the hospital with a body mass index of 30 or above.
- Almost 12,000 nurses become temporarily or permanently disabled every year after a lifting injury on the job.
- More than 250,000 nursing positions will be unfilled in America by the year 2025.
These four problems combine to create a highly dangerous work environment in many hospitals.
Many injury claims are ignored
Hospitals often neglect the well-being of their staff in order to save expenses. When nurses file complaints about unsafe working conditions, they are frequently ignored or threatened with retaliation. Some hospitals bypass proper workers’ compensation procedures and disqualify nurses for benefits if they file a claim after lifting a patient improperly.
An uphill battle for compensation
Nurses who file a claim for compensation after a musculoskeletal injury may face an uphill battle. Cawthorn’s claim was rejected by a hospital advocate who claimed that she had hurt her back while lifting a dish out of her oven at home. She was also discredited because she had attempted to return to work after her injury and had suffered another severe trauma to her back while lifting a different patient. According to the NPR report, tens of thousands of American nurses have faced the same difficulties while trying to obtain benefits. One 32-year-old nurse was fired and denied compensation while she was still wheelchair-bound after a major lifting injury.
How can nurses protect their rights?
In the competitive world of modern American healthcare, nursing staff need to protect their rights on the job. Every workers’ compensation attorney in Woodstock will agree that knowing the rules can help injured nurses make a better case for benefits.
If a nurse is seriously injured while lifting a patient, he or she should take all of the following steps immediately:
- Stop working at once, even if a shift has just begun or the hospital is extremely busy.
- Seek emergency treatment. If possible, go to the emergency department in the same hospital. Do not attempt to drive or walk any distance.
- Fill out a workers’ compensation form reporting the accident.
- Keep careful records of all circumstances surrounding the time and place of the accident.
- Seek further medical treatment and get a second opinion on the injury if needed.
These steps can be hard work in the immediate aftermath of an injury, but they can protect nurses from the danger of a denied claim and lost wages.
Nurses need respect in the workplace
Nurses are often treated with disrespect in the hospital setting. They are sometimes handled as a disposable labor pool, with little or no investment made in their long-term health. Nursing advocates argue that this is an unjust situation. Good hospital care requires a healthy population of nurses who are given the same respect as other medical professionals, as every workers’ compensation attorney in Woodstock knows.
Injured nurses have the right to care and compensation. Disabled workers may find it helpful to speak with a personal injury lawyer about the details of their case.