Editor-in-Chief; Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Officer, Meridian Health System, Neptune, N.J.
A significant portion of our time is spent ensuring that we've created the best work environment for our professional nursing staff members. Do they have the right equipment to do their jobs? Is their schedule conducive to their home obligations? Are we providing the appropriate educational opportunities? If the answer isn't yes, the reason might be that we've forgotten about those team members who can be the determining factor of a successful department—support staff members such as administrative assistants, patient-care associates, environmental specialists, supply distributors, and plant operations staff.
When my administrative assistant takes a well-deserved day off, I take a deep breath and think that I'm never going to make it through the day without her. Without her, my productivity is a fraction of what it is when she's there. Her organizational skills and ability to anticipate needs are exceptional. It's her performance that allows me to concentrate on my agenda, which results in a team effort and consistent achievement.
Think about how difficult it would be to manage a nursing unit without patient-care associates. When I worked as a staff nurse, my greatest ally was the patient-care assistant who worked with me. The combination of skills between us ensured that our patients received the most comprehensive care we could provide. It was this team approach and the respect and confidence we had for each other's abilities that produced such positive outcomes.
I often receive complimentary letters from patients and family members following their discharge from the hospital. Many of the most compelling letters discuss fond experiences with the environmental services technician, the greeter in the lobby, or the plant operations person who came into the room to adjust the temperature. These experiences are often the determining factor of whether patients' perceptions of the care they received were positive or negative.
Whether a member of your team is delivering meal trays, emptying the garbage, replacing the light bulb in the bathroom, or diagnosing and treating the most complicated medical illness, he or she makes a difference in patients' lives. I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like to try to manage an organization without the experience, skill, and expertise of those who help us do our jobs.
Many of the same initiatives that we employ to retain our skilled professionals should also be used to support ancillary staff. Support staff members should also have a forum for shared decision making and be strongly encouraged to actively participate in the governance of the department. Their input should be valued and will make a significant difference in the overall functioning of the unit. Our "unsung heroes" need to be treated as our most valued assets and consistently congratulated for their outstanding contributions to patient care.