As COVID-19 sweeps through hospitals, nurses’ cries for better personal protective equipment have become commonplace. Now, research suggests that a lack of resources could put nurses’ psychological well-being at risk.
In a new study in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, scholars from Purdue University analyzed responses from 372 registered nurses licensed in Indiana in a survey conducted before the pandemic. When asked about their experiences, nurses revealed a host of traumatic experiences, including being assaulted by patients and watching patients die due to medical errors, and reported symptoms such as exhaustion, guilt, disturbed sleep, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.
A common theme was lack of resources – and it led the researchers to identify a new subset of trauma. They define insufficient resource trauma as psychological trauma that occurs when nurses lack the knowledge, personnel or supplies needed to fulfill their ethical, professional and organizational responsibilities.
Those shortages are now common. In late May, 66% of health-care workers in a Washington Post-Ipsos poll reported shortages of N95 respirator masks, another 42% reported glove shortages, and 36% reported shortages of both protective gowns and face shields. Some nurses have walked off the job rather than perform their duties without sufficient protective equipment. The researchers’ analysis echoed that, suggesting that nurse retention may be endangered by nurses’ psychological trauma.
Though some traumas, such as witnessing the deaths of patients, are unavoidable, the researchers conclude that insufficient resource trauma is not.
“Nurses’ reports were vivid, frequently indicating they were still recovering from traumatic experiences,” the study concluded.