June 9, 2015
Public Citizen Report: Injuries to Nurses Are Severe and Numerous
Several Nurses Reported Being Fired From Jobs Because They Could No Longer Perform Onerous Lifting Duties
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Public Citizen report, “The Healthcare Industry’s Castoffs,” documents the nature and repercussions of injuries suffered by nurses. This report is the first in a five-part series spotlighting injuries to health care workers, potential methods to reduce these injuries, the policy positions of stakeholders and the implementation of solutions.
As Public Citizen reported (PDF) in 2013, more health care and social assistance workers are forced to miss work due to injury than workers in any other profession.
This report tells the stories of six nurses, three of whom previously worked at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa – and all of whom were forced out of their job due to on-the-job injuries. Examples include:
- Missy Christians, a registered nurse who is now 43 years old, was severely injured in 2010 when she tried to stop a patient who appeared to be suffering from dementia from thrusting himself out of bed. Christians, who worked for Mercy Hospital, has had surgery to deal with her injury several times. Despite mostly glowing performance reviews, Christians has twice been fired by Mercy because she had exhausted her paid and unpaid leave. (The second dismissal notice also included other controversial claims that are discussed in the report.)
- Lynn Kieler, also formerly a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital, was seriously injured in 2011 after attempting to prevent a patient from falling to the floor. An MRI revealed that Kieler, now 69, suffered a tear in her rotator cuff and a cervical disk extrusion. She underwent surgery for that condition in October 2011. “The day of the surgery, I received a letter saying that I was fired for attendance problems,” caused by her injury, Kieler told Public Citizen. Today, Kieler reports living in variable but constant pain.
Each of the former Mercy Hospital nurses expressed to Public Citizen that they would have been able to return to work if given more time to rehabilitate or assigned work with less strenuous lifting requirements. Each said that Mercy ultimately refused to accommodate them. Public Citizen offered Mercy Hospital an opportunity to comment on its policies toward injured nurses and to publish its response verbatim in the report’s appendix, but Mercy declined to offer substantive comment.
Other injured nurses profiled in Public Citizen’s report include:
- “Karen Smith,” a former registered nurse from southern California, who asked that her actual name not be used because she is involved in ongoing litigation. She suffered a broken back when she attempted to subdue a distressed and combative patient waking up from anesthesia. She has had two major surgeries, and another is planned for the near future. “I live like an 85-year-old. I’m in pain all the time,” said Smith, 58.
- Elizabeth White, a registered nurse in southern California, was injured while repositioning a patient in 2003. Tests showed severe degeneration in all of her disks, bulging disks and torn ligaments, she told Public Citizen. White, now 59 years old, quit working as a nurse in 2005 due to chronic pain from the injury. She started a business that makes equipment to help nurses reposition patients.
“These cases are anecdotal, but they provide insight into the anguish and agony behind the shocking statistics on health care workers’ injuries,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “These examples show nursing to be a profession that exacts undue hardships from its practitioners and extends a grossly inadequate safety net to its victims.”