Ongoing Home Care Nurse Education
Home care agencies hold in-service “days” for nurses to fill mandatory agency requirements, to provide credits to nurses toward their licensure renewal, or to recertify CPR. In addition to training received at the agency, each home care nurse should be observed changing a tracheostomy tube during supervisory visits to the home, as well as validating the operation of the ventilator equipment. Home care staff nurses have the responsibility of availing themselves of the opportunities offered (Schmalenberg et al., 2008). Many resources are available to provide instruction. Respiratory companies encourage their respiratory therapists (RTs) to provide in-home instruction to clinicians and families and to be available to clients for 24 hours per day. Agencies should schedule hands-on equipment in-services with the RTs for their staff nurses. Nurses also should use available time to review the operation manuals that are provided with each piece of equipment. For example, the LTV series of ventilators commonly used in pediatric home care have computer-simulated ventilators on CD with which to practice and to reinforce the knowledge taught by RTs (http://www.pulmonetic.com). The new Trilogy ventilators also have training CDs to instruct nurses and families (http://www.philips.com/respironics). As new technologies and upgrades to existing technology emerge, agencies should schedule corresponding nurse trainings.
Although caring for ventilator-dependent children, evidence-based practice should be the hallmark of the nursing creed. Employing evidence-based practice provides nurses with the knowledge to differentiate between clinical opinion and scientific evidence (Forbes & Hickey, 2009). Research has found, however, that even seasoned nurses often rely on outdated practices that are proven to be ineffective or harmful (Halm & Krisko-Hagel, 2008). Since 2000, nursing research has led to alterations in nursing practice, particularly in the areas of suctioning, saline instillation, physiotherapies, and CPR of the patient with a tracheostomy (Boroughs & Dougherty, 2011b). Home healthcare nurses cannot effectively mentor parents or ensure patient safety using outdated practices. “[Current] practice makes perfect,” should be the motto of the home healthcare nurse.
Home Care Nursing Experience
When VACHP was established 30 years ago, nurses were required to have prior supervised hospital intensive care experience to work in the home autonomously with ventilator-dependent children. Experience in the hospital provided immediate access to the assistance of other clinicians, a stable environment, practice and protocol changes, and rapid emergency response.
Many nursing graduates seeking first-time employment are facing a shortage of hospital positions due to economic downturn (Carlson, 2009). Studies show that 75% of new nursing jobs from 2001 to 2008 were filled by nurses over 50 years old (Buerhaus et al., 2009). Unaffordable elective surgeries and a lack of medical benefits due to unemployment have led to hospital downsizing and hiring freezes (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Nurses Association, American Organization of Nurse Executives, & National League for Nurses, 2010). Healthcare reform may continue to affect hospital hiring patterns as the push for care is shifting to primary prevention in outpatient settings (Rother & Lavizzo-Mourey, 2009). As a result, hospital job growth has slowed while nursing home, home healthcare agency, and physician office jobs have experienced significant growth. Acute care hospital job growth will be the slowest (Cox et al., 2010). For new nursing school graduates, an alternative to acute care nursing includes home health care (Elwood & Larsen, 2011).
New graduates or inexperienced nurses who are employed by home care agencies may be required to make complex decisions based solely on the nursing assessment skills they acquired during nursing school. According to the research of Smith and Roehrs (2009), schools of nursing rely primarily on sophisticated simulation activities with mannequins, case studies, and role-playing. These methods, however, lack the valuable human factor needed to provide students with real-life opportunities to perform nursing skills and to interact with patients. In many communities without a major children's' hospital, pediatric patients are often located in units with adult patients so that the pediatric clinical rotation is interspersed throughout the semester. With social mandates such as Healthy People 2010 emphasizing the need for more services for chronically ill children, a different approach to teaching pediatric nursing must be incorporated into the nursing school curricula (Smith & Hamner, 2008).
Home care agencies face educational challenges when hiring and training new graduates and inexperienced clinicians. In 2008, the Visiting Nurse Association of America (VNAA) conducted a membership-wide survey to assess the impact of the nursing shortage on home care agencies. The report showed that the agencies had a 10% vacancy rate and 59% of cases are declined weekly because of inability to staff the cases. VNAA reported that new graduates were not adequately prepared for home care positions. Hiring recent graduates greatly increased expenses and the need for additional resources to provide the extensive training needed for safe and effective patient care (Carter, 2009).
Standard CPR Is Insufficient
Most home care nurses are required to have CPR certification. Standard CPR instruction does not include training for resuscitation of children with a tracheostomy. Although respiratory arrest is a leading cause of death in the general pediatric population, children with tracheostomy tubes are at an even greater risk. In contrast to adults, cardiac arrest in infants and children does not usually result from a primary cardiac cause. More often it is the terminal result of progressive respiratory failure, called asphyxial arrest. Asphyxia begins with a variable period of systemic hypoxia, hypercapnea, and acidosis; progresses to bradycardia and hypotension; and culminates with cardiac arrest (Kleinman et al., 2010). Prompt recognition of problems and action by the nurse may resolve acute respiratory distress, dyspnea, and increased work of breathing to prevent asphyxia and cardiac arrest (Grossbach et al., 2011). Thus, annual CPR recertification of home care nurses must include specific guidelines for delivering breaths through a tracheostomy in a pediatric patient. The standard CPR technique of mouth-to-nose or mouth breathing is of no value to pediatric patients who have critical airways that prevent delivery of air through the upper airway.
Just as standard CPR requires a review of theory, the practice of performance skills, and a return demonstration to achieve certification, so must CPR for the child with a tracheostomy. Understanding the theory of CPR for the child with a tracheostomy is imperative if the child is to be resuscitated quickly. Nurses who lack knowledge or skill cannot correctly prioritize these tasks in tracheostomy or ventilator emergencies (Schmalenberg et al., 2008). Rehearsing the component steps of CPR for the child with a tracheostomy will reinforce the theory, prepare the nurse to recognize the problem, and enable the nurse to prioritize actions when faced with emergencies while alone in the home.
A vigilant, well-trained caregiver is the best prevention for pediatric tracheostomy and ventilator emergencies in the home. According to Meyer and Lavin (2005), the public and the nursing profession are concerned with the capacity for nurses to be consistently vigilant caregivers. Professional nursing vigilance is a prerequisite for informed nursing action. It is the mental work of nursing that is fundamental to nursing practice. Vigilance includes anticipating what might be, calculating the risk, monitoring results and outcomes and staying ready to act. Vigilance is the backdrop against which professional nursing activities are performed.
Many parents report that a primary frustration of home care is the lack of vigilance, especially when nurses sleep on the job. It is difficult for parents to develop trust, confidence, and rapport with a nurse who has been found asleep. A lack of vigilance due to sleeping is one of the leading causes of death in pediatric home care. Agencies must take action to ensure that work schedules for nurses allow for proper rest between shifts. They must also make certain that corrective action is taken after parents report a nurse sleeping on the job.
To be able to anticipate what might occur, clinicians must take inventory of equipment, medications, and oxygen supplies during each shift. Emergency equipment must be labeled and in clear sight, ready to use at a moment's notice. One of the most vital pieces of emergency equipment is a telephone preprogrammed with emergency numbers and the house address labeled on the phone. During emergencies clinicians may be unable to recall the correct phone number or address, which can delay emergency responders.
Vigilant nurses use every tool available to provide safe, effective care in the home. They maintain an awareness that emergencies can happen at any time. Nurses who are prepared and maintain a sense of anticipation develop a level of confidence to respond quickly and appropriately under pressure.
A lack of vigilance may lead to complacency without the clinician's awareness. A ventilator-dependent child may be making significant gains toward liberation from mechanical ventilation and be “emergency-free” for many months. During this time, it is easy to forget that a tracheostomy tube can occlude or dislodge quickly. The clinician must always be cognizant of the child's vulnerability and be ready to act. Sadly, we have seen children who are nearing decannulation die unexpectedly from preventable causes such as mucous plug or accidental decannualtion. Families and nurses are devastated when this occurs.
Case Study 2
Mary Jones, a new nurse graduate, applies for a position at a pediatric home care agency. During her interview with the agency's clinical manager, Mary states that she has extensive experience with tracheostomy management having helped care for her ventilator-dependent sister for many years, and that she would like to care for a child with a tracheostomy. The clinical manager administers a written test to Mary. Mary receives a high score on the tracheostomy and LTV ventilator management sections. The manager accompanies Mary to the agency's simulation lab to assess Mary's tracheostomy and ventilator skills on a mannequin. Mary performs well. There is a schedule opening for 2-year-old Jack Bell, a child with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). The clinical manager calls Jack's mother to schedule an orientation day for Mary with one of Jack's regular nurses, Susan, on a day that a routine tracheostomy change is planned for Jack. During Mary's orientation in the home, Susan shows Mary where the emergency and standard equipment and medications are located, and Mrs. Bell explains her expectations for Jack's care. Mrs. Bell states that a primary expectation is that the nurses who care for Jack are competent and vigilant and never sleep on the job. Mary and Susan review Jack's prescribed plan of care. The clinical manager arrives at the Bell home in time to observe Jack's scheduled tracheostomy tube change by Susan and Mary. The tube change is completed without complication. Mary and Susan verify correct tube placement, perform a thorough respiratory assessment, and document the procedures in Jack's chart. Susan observes Mary providing independent care for the rest of the shift and quizzes her on proper response to “what-if” emergency scenarios. With Mrs. Bell's approval, Mary is scheduled to work the following Saturday when Mrs. Bell will be home during the shift. The clinical manager schedules her monthly supervisory visit to the Bell home to coincide with Mary's work schedule so that she can validate Mary's successful integration into Jack's home care.
The key to preventing accidental deaths of ventilator-dependent children in the home is comprehensive preparation of the nurses who care for them. Case Study 1 and Case Study 2 present the worst and the best practices for safe and effective home care of pediatric ventilator-dependent children. To decrease accidental mortality among ventilator-dependent children at home, agencies must ensure best practices where nurses working in the home are clinically competent and vigilant. Agencies that prepare their nurses and provide oversight and opportunities for ongoing training succeed in providing safer, more effective care. Parents, even those who are highly skilled to care for their own children, cannot be held to the professional standards of a nurse. Therefore, parents must rely on the knowledge, skill, and vigilance of home care nurses.
This article is a call to action to raise the standard of pediatric home care. The preventable death rate of ventilator-dependent children at home will decrease only when all are committed to maintaining high standards of care.
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