May 2001

We have all heard about the current nursing shortage. Fewer nurses mean that patients may not get a prompt response when they need help. What can you do if you are in the hospital and not getting the attention we need? You do have some options.

Ringing for the nurse

Joan went to her doctor for a sore knee. She was given a cortisone shot and told to take ibuprofen for six weeks. Unfortunately, she did not tell the doctor that she was drinking eight cups of coffee a day, using nicotine gum, and taking about four aspirin a day for headaches. She started having tarry stools but did not know that this can be a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding.

It turned out she had developed a bleeding ulcer and had to go to the emergency room (ER). She had emergency surgery and was then admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).

While in the ER and ICU, the nurses were very helpful and attentive. When she was moved to a regular nursing floor that changed dramatically.

One morning she called for the nurse because she needed to use the bathroom and could not move alone with all the tubes. About an hour and a half later, an attendant appeared with a food tray. No one had come to help her with the bathroom. Totally frustrated, she asked the attendant to get the head nurse for her.

When the head nurse appeared she helped Joan to the bathroom and listened to her complaints. She gave her the personal care she needed. After her discussion with the head nurse, the nurses were more attentive.


Joan's experience tells us what to do when we need help in the hospital. If you are not getting the attention you need, ask for the nurse in charge. That may be the charge nurse, head nurse, or supervisor. If you do not get satisfaction with the nursing staff, you can report this to your physician. Another option is to ask for the hospital's patient representative (also called a patient advocate or ombudsman), who is available to assist patients with problems. Finally, you can always call the administrative office and ask to speak to the vice president in charge of patient services.

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Check back next month for more Personal Stories.

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