Dangerous 18 Hours Shifts in Nursing Homes

August 17, 2012
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A nurse friend of my husband’s was recently let go from a Kentucky nursing home for medication mistakes made while working two back-to-back, weekend, eighteen-hour shifts. I didn’t believe that was possible under labor laws but I can find no maximum labor law covering how long people can be asked to work.

A nurse friend of my husband’s was recently let go from a Kentucky nursing home for medication mistakes made while working two back-to-back, weekend, eighteen-hour shifts. I didn’t believe that was possible under labor laws but I can find no maximum labor law covering how long people can be asked to work.

I’d be curious to know if this is a common practice in other places. I found this document, put out by the  Department of Health and Human services, that described nursing homes using 16 hours shifts as non-traditional, flexible hours for employees. By the time you add in breaks and lunch, I assume this is the same scheduling my husband’s friend was talking about working. There is no suggestion in this document that these hours might be dangerous to patient health. There are well documented studies illustrating the increasing errors that occur when nurses work more than 12 hour shifts[1].

Even if an individual conscientiously gets enough sleep prior to one 16-18 hour shift, there is not sufficient time to sleep enough when shifts are back-to-back on a weekend. The nurse described here found her abilities slipping, particularly as she entered the end of the second shift.

This kind of care is unconscionable and has no place in the care of our elderly population.

1. Roger,Ann. The Effects of Fatigue and Sleepiness on Nurse Performance and Patient Safety. 2008, Apr.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2645/