The idea of being allowed to sleep at work might seem absurd to most people, but to nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital, it’s no laughing matter.
“I’m not talking about people sleeping at their desk,” says one Behavioral Medicine nurse who says she can’t reveal her name without getting fired. “I’m talking about when you’re on your break and other nurses are watching the patients.”
Nurses working 12-hour shifts are allowed to take 30 minutes a day to eat and three 15-minute breaks every four hours, according to St. Joseph Medical Center documents.
The complaining nurse, however, says she and her colleagues can take the breaks all in one lump if they wish. And they say they should be able to take a quick nap in that time; the hospital says otherwise.
“It’s our break,” says the nurse. “That’s why it’s called a break. If you’re going to stay on the job, then you don’t have a break. You either have a break, or you don’t.”
St. Joseph’s spokeswoman, Fritz Guthrie, did not respond to questions about the hospital’s napping policies.
The nurse says that the head nurse has told staffers she intends to hide in the hospital at night and covertly check up on people to make sure they haven't nodded off on break.
“It’s wrong, it’s unfair, I know it is and the rest of the staff knows it is,” says the nurse.
She adds that recently she was so tired driving home from work that she fell asleep behind the wheel.
“I woke up when I heard my side-mirror scraping against the tire of an 18-wheeler,” she says. “I had rolled down the window hoping the air would keep me awake, and thank God I did.
“People think, ‘Well, it’s no big deal, let’ em stay up working,’ but the general public doesn’t realize how much sleep deprivation and fatigue can effect not only how well the nurse cares for patients, but when that nurse gets off work, their car can hit another car, so it’s totally 100 percent counter-productive to say that nurses cannot take a nap on their break.”
We agree. In fact, we’re all due for a lunch-time snooze any minute now.
Update: St. Joseph's spokeswoman, Fritz Guthrie, says it's perfectly fine for nurses to combine their breaks into one longer respite and to take a nap, provided that they remain out of sight from patients, that a hospital staff member knows the nurse is sleeping, and that someone has been assigned to wake the nurse up when the break is over.
"We're more than happy to let them sleep if they need to but we've got to have the back-up in place," says Guthrie. "This in fact was not the case with I believe one of the people who talked to you."
-- Chris Vogel
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