Visiting nurses drive to patients’ homes to provide care. While doing that, you can run into any number of situations. You could face barking dogs that don’t want to let you in the yard or an angry family member who also doesn’t want to see you there. Safety issues in the actual building can pose significant issues. Then there’s the neighborhood, which can be especially daunting in some areas.
Visiting nurses must sometimes travel through dangerous neighborhoods to get to patients. You may even enter an apartment building where drugs are being sold in another unit. Crime-riddled neighborhoods are especially risky at night, though you may not realize you’re in danger until you arrive. While your agency may do everything it can to vet your clients, it can’t always foresee certain dangers. Training to learn the danger signs in the environment is imperative for visiting nurses. Prevention can include things like not wearing jewelry to appointments, locking your purse in the trunk of your car and knowing your routes to and from clients’ homes.
There may be times when you walk into a situation that’s personally dangerous for you and even life-threatening for your patient. At those times, you need to have immediate access to a phone to call for help. For example, if your patient is delirious or combative, refusing to let you treat her, yet showing definite signs of distress, ideally you’ll make the call to 911 and your manager from a cell phone that you carry at all times. You can’t rely on using patients’ phones. Some of your patients may not have a land line. Cell service must be available at all your visitation sites and your company should provide you with a charged phone for every visit you make.
When your agency takes a call and goes to visit the client to make an initial assessment, the nurse or social worker may also make an assessment of the other people in the home and the risks they might pose. An elderly patient may have a mentally challenged child living in the home who could get violent. Drinking by family members in the home can lead to high-risk behaviors. Any risky behaviors by others in the home create an unsafe environment for the regular visiting nurse. Prevention assessments can help to form the treatment plan, such as making visits only in the early morning or sending two nurses on every visit to risky homes.
The safety hazards you face may be inherent in the home in the form of broken stairs or cluttered hallways. Peeling paint, bugs and animals pose various health hazards for visiting nurses and may actually exacerbate your clients’ health issues as well. Then you have the weather and outside environmental factors to consider. Icy sidewalks, broken fences and blocked driveways could make passage risky for you when walking from your car to the patient’s home. Visiting nurses must prepare for such scenarios even in the best neighborhoods, especially in the winter and during storms. Awareness and vigilance are vital skills necessary for every visiting nurse to develop.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."