Clinical Judgment: A Vital Correctional Nurse Competency

decisionsRhonda has been called to the booking area to medically screen a 44 year old man brought by the police on charges of driving a stolen vehicle and drinking while driving. On the way to jail he hit his head on the window of the squad car. Approaching the area she sees an obese white male, hands cuffed behind his back, leaning facedown on the booking counter, propped up by two police. The man is yelling that he is going to faint and can’t breathe.  A chair is brought so he can sit and Rhonda notes that he is diaphoretic and flushed in the face. He reports that he has prescriptions for two inhalers but otherwise has no medical problems. His voice tone is belligerent and he is dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and sandals;  inappropriate for the winter weather. Rhonda can see that his legs and feet are mottled and swollen. He also has a swollen area over his eyebrow on the right side and the eye on that side is swollen shut. There are four policemen waiting for the nurse to screen the arrestee and another six custody officers waiting to proceed with booking. 

Christine Tanner, a nurse researcher, has studied expert nurses to determine components of clinical judgment and when it is most specifically needed. She found that clinical judgment skills were particularly important when

  • The clinical problem or concern is undetermined;
  • The presenting data is ambiguous; and
  • When the situation presents conflicts among individuals with competing interests

Our case above has all three elements. Rhonda has a problem to solve and she needs to do it quickly amidst competing interests – the patient’s, the police, and the correctional officers. The patient condition is undetermined at the moment. Rhonda cannot merely review the patient’s medical record for a list of diagnoses. His presenting data is ambiguous and non-specific. The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.

Tanner reviewed 200 studies on clinical judgment in nursing practice. From this review she concluded that a nursing clinical judgment involved the following components:

  • Gaining a grasp of the situation holistically
  • Seeking an understanding of the situation which is beyond just the objective findings on assessment
  • Considering factors contributing to the presentation
  • Attending to the patient’s response to the nurse
  • Deciding an appropriate course of action
  • Reviewing outcomes and making changes as needed

What clinical judgment do you think Rhonda made in this situation? Even though there was pressure to book the man, she was concerned about a concussion and his respiratory condition. She did not approve him medically for booking and he was sent on to the hospital emergency room. There it was discovered that, although he was intoxicated, he did have a mild concussion, and, more importantly, was discovered to have moderate congestive heart failure. He was in the hospital for over a week.

Have you had a challenging patient presentation that seemed ambiguous at the time or had competing interests to consider? Share your story in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © mstanley13 –

September 2014 News Round Up (podcast)


cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Correctional nurses Margaret Collatt, Jeannie Chesney, and Susan Laffan, join Lorry to discuss the latest correctional health care news in this podcast.

Briefing Paper: The Dangerous Use of Solitary Confinement in the US

The ACLU recently published a briefing paper on the dangers of solitary confinement in US prisons. This has been a topic of interest for some time in corrections news as more and more evidence of the effects of long term confinement emerge. This paper reports that more than 80,000 prisoners are likely held in some form of solitary confinement, be it administrative segregation, disciplinary segregation or protective custody. Panelists discuss the variable nature of what constitutes solitary confinement and the effects as reported in the paper. Sadly, many in solitary confinement are juveniles or have severe mental illness or cognitive disabilities that led to not understanding or following prison rules. The effects of confinement can’t be helping them. What can correctional nurses do about solitary confinement practices is also discussed.

Excited Delirium and the Dual Response: Preventing In-Custody Deaths

Excited delirium is the topic discussed in a recent issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. This poorly understood medical emergency is seen fairly frequently in the criminal justice system, particularly involving young males who have drug intoxication or mental illness. If not recognized and treated, respiratory arrest can result in death; often during a take-down situation. I’ve been involved in reviewing several correctional legal cases that involved possible excited delirium and know it can be hard to diagnose, even after the fact. It must be very difficult to recognize and manage in the midst of trying to manage a young, strong, agitated and hallucinating male. Panelists describe their experiences with this condition.

Clinic geared toward health needs of ex-offenders opens in Philly

Philadelphia has opened a city health clinic geared toward ex-offenders and people leaving jail or prison. It is a response to the need for health care for our patient population once released. Most of us know that incarceration is often the first health care experience for many of our patients and chronic diseases end up being identified and treated. Then, once released to the community, follow-up is difficult. Panelists agree that this is a good idea that will hopefully be replicated elsewhere.

Oregon prison tackles solitary confinement with Blue Room experiment

Oregon Live is reporting on the use of nature imagery as a therapy to reduce the mental health effects of solitary confinement at the Snake River Correctional Institute in Oregon. A forest ecologist from the University of Utah, Nalina Nadkarni, suggested the use of images of nature such as beaches, rain forests, and waterfalls could help reorient prisoners in isolation and decrease the mental illness, self-harm, and escalating agitation that emerges with continued isolation.

The therapy was picked up by administration at Snake River in early 2013. They used one of their recreation rooms to play nature videos and were able to convert the room for about $1500. They are seeing some positive results including some reductions in disciplinary infractions. The University of Utah hopes to research the effects of the intervention later this fall.


Correctional Nurse Guide to the Code of Ethics: The Nature of Health Problems

North East South West Signpost Showing Travel Or DirectionThis post is part of a continuing series applying the Code of Ethics for Nurses to correctional nursing practice. Find other posts in the series here.

Kim was not happy with her assignment in the large city jail infirmary where she worked. The patient load was manageable but she didn’t want to deal with the patient in cell B-5. Kim was a new mother with an eight month old baby girl. She had done everything right during her pregnancy; strictly following medical advice and not drinking at all. Her baby was born with a slight esophageal defect that required surgery in the early days. Although her baby was doing well, it was a continual concern for her. Now she is struggling with bad feelings toward the pregnant woman in cell B-5 who is six months pregnant and going through alcohol withdrawal while being maintained on methadone for her heroin addiction. How could this woman have so little regard for her child’s future? Kim did not know how she would be able to make it through the shift.

Code of Ethics Proposition 1: The nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems.

Kim definitely has an ethical dilemma. She cannot get past the nature of her patient’s health problem. She is unable to provide nursing care in this situation with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of this patient. What are her options?

Gift Exchange

An easy option would be for Kim to broker an assignment exchange. Another nurse who is less sensitive to these concerns may be willing to care for this patient and get beyond the ethical matter. This exchange provides Kim with the gift of time to work through her ethical dilemma. Smaller facilities may not have enough staff on shift to provide this option or nursing leadership may be unwilling to juggle assignments. Best for Kim to approach a fellow staff member with the idea and then present a plan to the nurse manager for consideration. This can only be a short-term solution, though.

Shifting Perspective

Kim needs to both objectively and subjectively analyze her feelings toward this patient. It may, in fact, be true that this woman is totally disregarding the health of her unborn baby, however, providing appropriate infirmary care is reversing this disregard. Managing the withdrawal of alcohol in this situation may be of great benefit to the baby, as well as the mother. This shift in perspective may allow Kim to engage in an appropriate therapeutic nurse-patient relationship. Caring concern might be what this patient needs to make a life change. Even if this doesn’t happen, Kim’s nursing care will be of benefit to the unborn child.

Out of Body Experience

Kim does not respect or value the actions of this patient. This is true for many of our incarcerated patients. They have made poor life decisions that most nurses would disagree with. Kim is able to overlook this when dealing with other patients. Why is this one a problem? This is the heart of the ethical issue that Kim must struggle through. This patient’s decisions hit close to home as Kim has a young child and is sensitive to how the life choices of this patient are affecting her unborn child. Kim may benefit from considering the situation from a third-party perspective. This practice (sometimes called bracketing) involves consciously setting aside personal feelings or biases in a situation. No doubt, if she has strong feelings about this patient’s seeming disregard for her baby, bracketing will be challenging.

Most important is that Kim actively engage in working through her ethical dilemma rather than respond poorly to this patient or deny that she is having difficulty.

Have you struggled with a similar situation in providing correctional nursing care? Share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Stuart Miles –

Four Sources of Fast Correctional Nursing CE for Recertification or Relicensure

Stack of papers and clock isolated on whiteDoes this sound familiar? Notice arrives that your CCHP or CCHP-RN certification or your nursing license is due next month. Plenty of time to get the required continuing education (CE), right? The notice is set aside (if you are like me it gets printed and set on the pile on the right side of my desk) and the next time the paper shows up, submission is due tomorrow. Not that this has ever happened to me (well, alright, it did happen just last month….). So, just in case this might happen to you (I’m sure it won’t, but just in case) here is my list of four quick sources of correctional nursing continuing education that you can access online and complete immediately. First, though, is a clarification of requirements:

License Renewal

States vary as to the number of contact hours needed for a 2 year licensure period. Most states ask the licensee to maintain the official documentation (CE certificates) and attest to having completed the required number of hours. Documentation may be requested in a random audit of licensees. Here is a handy list of current state nursing board CE requirements for relicensure from

Nursing Continuing Education Requirements by State

Some states have specific content requirements as part of the total CE needed. For example, Florida RNs are required to complete 24 hours of appropriate continuing education (CE) during each renewal period, including two (2) hours relating to prevention of medical errors. In addition to these 24 hours of general CE, each RN must complete two (2) hours of domestic violence CE every third renewal for a total of 26 hours. Specific requirements are addressed by state in the link above.

CCHP and CCHP-RN Recertification

CCHP and CCHP-RN certifications have yearly CE requirements.

CCHP CE Recertification Requirements: Participation in 18 hours of continuing education (at least six of which are specific to correctional health care).

CCHP-RN Recertification Requirements: Completion of at least 18 nursing contact hours, with six specific to correctional health care.

If you have an excellent benefits package at work that includes an education allowance, try to get a National Commission on Correctional Health Care conference. You won’t regret it. However, that won’t work for a looming due date. Looming due dates require immediate results. Here are four go-to places for correctional nursing online CE.

Sources of Correctional Nursing Continuing Education

  • Pedagogy Correctional Health Care Campus: I’m a bit biased on this source since I develop the correctional healthcare specific continuing education here. The modules specific to corrections are in video format and have application checkpoints to hold your attention. Here are the ones available so far with more on the way:

o   The Correctional Health Care Patient and Environment

o   Correctional Health Care Processes

o   Safety in the Correctional Setting

o   Chronic Illness in the Correctional Setting

o   Control and Management of Infectious Diseases in the Correctional Setting

o   Legal Origins and Issues Behind Correctional Nursing

o   Psychiatric Nursing in the Correctional Setting

o   Women in Prison

  • Correctional Nurse Educator: Our friends over at Correctional Nurse Educator have some fantastic courses available, as well. Topics include Asthma, Chronic Care, Inmate Manipulation, Suicide Prevention, and much more. All are focused on correctional nursing practice.

That’s it for my quick list of correctional healthcare continuing education. Do you have a favorite online source that I missed? Share your secrets in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Elnur –

Struggling to Define Caring in Correctional Nursing

rock climbingCorrectional nurses face a daily struggle to care for their patients while delivering much-needed healthcare in a restricted environment where they may also fear for their own personal safety. How can nurses truly care for and care about their inmate patient population? This is a question many of us in the specialty grapple with as we try to elevate the professional status of correctional nursing. Caring has been described as the essence of professional nursing practice, therefore we must establish the characteristics of this concept as it is enacted in the criminal justice system.

Weiskopf studied nurses’ experience of caring for inmate patients and discovered a number of limitations in our setting .  Nurses in this study described the need to negotiate boundaries between the culture of caring and the culture of custody to establish relationship with custody staff in order to be effective. One surprising finding of the study was the extent to which the negative attitudes and behaviors of other nursing staff affected nurses who were attempting to provide compassionate nursing care.

Many nurses working behind bars feel an obligation to care and often struggle to find ways to do this in a hostile environment. Yet, developing a structure and process for caring may be the core defining characteristic of our specialty. Here are some suggested ways nurses enact caring behaviors in corrections:

  • Educating patients about their health conditions and self-care principles
  • Maintaining a nurse-patient relationship that is within the helpful zone of professional boundaries
  • Advocating for the health care needs of a patient when necessary
  • Showing compassion and respect
  • Presenting a non-judgmental manner
  • Listening to what the patient is saying
  • Helping patients through a difficult situation

Correctional nurses are confronted daily with a struggle against a tidal wave of organizational culture convinced that we should not be caring ‘too much’ for our patients. Caring for murderers, rapists, and criminals takes true grit and a more serious definition than a superficial application of a warm positive emotional response or empathetic word. We are the ‘Tough Love’ folks on the nursing caring continuum.

Consider these unusual ways that a correctional nurses cares for patients:

  • Not accepting a gift from a patient
  • Letting a patient know that you know the rules and they should not ask you to violate them
  • Asking the patient to complete a sick call request for their rash that they want treated during pill line
  • Being diligent with mouth checks during pill line

All of the examples above constitute an action or activity that is helpful for the patient; whether it avoids penalties, provides boundaries, or prevents self-harm. Caring seeks the best for the other in any situation.

Have you found it difficult to care for patients in the criminal justice system? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Alexander Zhiltsov –

The foundation of this post originally appeared in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog

Patient Identification: Is the Right Patient Getting That Medication?

gloved hand holding plastic cup with pillsRecently I reviewed the medication administration practices at a small city jail. The nurse had been there many years and was able to complete the delivery of medication on 3 floors of inmate cells very quickly. In the unit common area she called out the names of the inmates. Inmates would present themselves and a soufflé cup of pills was poured into their open hand.  This was happening so quickly that I could not always see whether the inmate was tossing the medication into his mouth or his pocket. Neither nurse nor officer did an oral check. No inmate had a wrist band or other identification.

Can you name all the safety issues of concern in the described process? I hope that patient identification was high on your list of concerns along with medication diversion and hoarding risk…..but I’ll leave those last two for another discussion. “Wrong Patient” medication and treatment errors are frequent in health care delivery. They are a top concern for The Joint Commission (TJC) and are high on their list of National Patient Safety Goals again this year.

Times of particular concern for “Wrong Patient” errors are during medication administration, blood draws, blood transfusions, and surgical procedures. For the correctional setting, medication administration and blood draws would be most common.

Improve patient safety by applying these TJC recommendations:

  • Two methods of identification: Two forms of patient identification in corrections may include verbal name check (first and last) and inmate ID#. Photo ID cards or wristbands are ideal. Some computerized systems are able to access digital photos.
  • Involve the patient: Patients should know their meds and ordered lab tests. If there is a question about a medication or test, double-check the order. Patients can often help avoid an error.
  • Label in front of the patient: Label lab tubes in the presence of the patient. This can help avoid tube mix-up.
  • Include patient identification in orientation and training: Don’t leave patient identification processes to chance. Be sure all staff follow safety processes by learning them at orientation and through reinforcement during management rounds.

I shared my concerns with health care administration that day at the city jail described above and made recommendations for how they could improve their medication administration process to include 2 forms of patient identification.

What is your process for patient identification in medication administration at your facility? Share your procedure in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © vvoe –

This post originally appeared in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog.

August 2014 Correctional Health Care News Round-Up (podcast)


cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Correctional nurse experts, Mari Knight and Kathy Wild, join Lorry to discuss the latest news in our specialty.

Prison EHRs Improve Coordination of Care

A study was published in the Health and Human Rights Journal about the implementation of electronic health records (EHR) across 12 jails in New York City between 2008 and 2011. This study highlights an interesting use of the EHR – that of using it as a tool to monitor human rights among the patients. In particular, they were interested in violent injuries and mental health stressors. The report highlighted the fear inmates have in revealing their healthcare needs. The report noted that “Patients in jail often avoid care because they fear their information will not be confidential.” Panelists did not find this to be true in the patient populations they have been involved with. The study talked about how aggregate data from the electronic health record system was used to look for vulnerability points such as patterns of injuries in various facilities. This isn’t something that would be readily available through a paper system. They are also using the system to track vulnerabilities such as traumatic brain injury and complex case management. One of the areas they found difficult was integrating mental health care into the EHR. Mental health documentation can sometimes defy categorization with large amounts of narrative notes and free-text assessments. However, expanding visit type options and structured data elements helped. As to human rights and vulnerabilities, they were able to track levels and locations of self-harming incidents and found that adolescence, serious mental illness, and solitary confinement were highly associated with self-harm in their jail system.

Alabama Prisons Face TB Outbreak

The Alabama prison system is reporting an outbreak of tuberculosis. Infection management in the confined spaces of our overcrowded prison system is a continuing issue. The Alabama Department of Public Health is reporting nine active cases of TB so far this year while they have only had 5 cases on average in past years. They are looking to contain their active cases to their designated healthcare facility at St. Clair, which is a fairly common practice. The article affirms what we already know as correctional practitioners – rates of TB are higher behind bars than in the general population. Panelists debate whether there may be increasing TB rates in other systems and how far reaching this concern could be.

Get the Nonviolent Mentally Ill Out of Our Prisons 

Besides infectious diseases, mental illness is of high concern for our patient population, as we discussed with our first story on capturing mental health documentation and trending. This third story is an op-ed from the Salt Lake Tribune advocating community treatment rather than incarceration for the nonviolent mentally ill. The author suggests that a major constraint is the lack of treatment services for addiction and mental health issues. Panelists agree that we need more resources for both violent and nonviolent mentally ill inmates.

Illinois Prison Hospice Offers Care and Redemption 

Ending on the upbeat, there is encouragement in news of the hospice program in the Illinois prison system. The article quotes Edgar Barens, whose documentary on a prison hospice program in Iowa was nominated for an Academy Award, as saying that working as an inmate volunteer in a prison hospice can be transformational but that only 20 of the 75 known prison hospice programs have inmate volunteers. This number seems low and panelists hope more prison hospice programs will include inmate workers.

Scope and Standards: Five Correctional Nurse Roles

ANA StandardsThis post is part of an ongoing series discussing key components of the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standard of Practice, 2nd Ed. Review prior posts in this series here. Purchase your own copy of this highly recommended book through Amazon.*

I love helping nurses discover the invisible specialty that is correctional nursing. In fact, that was my original purpose in starting this blog over 5 years ago. I was sure that if more nurses knew about our specialty then more would join our ranks. From my own experience I know that few nurses get exposure to incarcerated patients during their education. There are practical reason why student nurses don’t have clinical rotations in the local jail, but it hampers the ability for new nurses to consider entering our challenging specialty. Regularly I am asked by new nurses if they should apply for a correctional nursing position. Although I enthusiastically encourage these individuals; I also caution them to be careful in selecting their first correctional nursing position if they are a new graduate. Here is why: Correctional nurses have so many roles and must often do them with little support and resources. This can be overwhelming for a new nurse; who may need a good bit more structure to get a solid foundation for their nursing career.

Based on the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, here are the five leading roles of a correctional nurse.

Primary Care

Correctional nurses are most often the first point of contact for incarcerated patients with healthcare needs. They manage access to all other aspects of healthcare and make determinations of appropriate level and type of care needed. In this way they coordinate ambulatory care provision to the patient population.

Emergency Care

Correctional nurses also provide immediate treatment of injury and acute illness while determining if a life-threatening injury exists that would warrant emergency transport to an emergency room. Patients are stabilized for transport with the provision of first aid and basic life support.

Health Promotion

The inmate patient population is often underserved with limited healthcare access in the community. They enter the correctional system having made poor lifestyle choices and often have little knowledge of how to manage chronic conditions.  Therefore, correctional nurses have a major role in promoting heathy lifestyle choices while educating the patient population at every encounter.

Patient Advocacy

Healthcare is not the primary mission of correctional institutions. Security concerns and community safety may vie with an individual patient’s healthcare needs. Correctional nurses negotiate the security system and collaborate with officer peers to meet patient health needs within system constraints. They act as patient advocates through these efforts.

Care Coordination

Correctional nurses coordinate patient care within a system arranged for other purposes. Barriers to care must often be overcome. Standard security constraints such as restricted movement or limited personal items can inhibit continuity of care. Correctional nurses must creatively navigate the system to coordinate appropriate care.

Along with the above roles, correctional nursing practice is a merger of multiple nursing specialties: Occupational health, emergency nursing, acute care, community health, psychiatric care, geriatrics, women’s health, adolescent health, palliative and end-of-life care.  A correctional nurse must be prepared to deliver a full menu of assessment and interventions within the security perimeter; knowing when a patient needs to be transported to an advanced level of care or specialty. This can be a daunting task for even the experienced professional.

Although I caution new nurse graduates to pick their first correctional nursing position with care; it can be done. With an extended orientation and good management support, many new nurses have made correctional nursing their first specialty.

Do you have a story about the various roles of correctional nursing? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

*Affiliate Disclosure: I am grateful to be of service and bring you content free of charge. In order to do this, please note that when you click links and purchase items, in most (not all) cases I will receive a referral commission. Your support in purchasing through these links enables me to keep this blog going. Thank you!

Avoiding Patient Manipulation (podcast)


cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Corrections expert and author, Gary Cornelius, joins Lorry to talk about the best ways to deal with manipulative patients. He shares highlights from his excellent book Art of the Con  which was instrumental in developing the chapter on staff safety in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing book.

He provides a helpful 3-part description of manipulation as 1) wanting to control or change things 2) by artful and unfair means 3) to achieve a desired end.

Key concepts from the interview:

  • Everyone is a target. You have what the manipulator wants – access to the outside.
  • Stressed out people are vulnerable. Financial problems, emotional stress, or marital discord can be used by some inmates to manipulate staff to do their bidding.
  • If a request is made that you are not sure about – talk to your supervisor first.
  • The schemes will start small and seem innocent. The idea being, if you bend the rules for small things what else will you do?

Try the C-H-U-M-P-S approach when dealing with correctional patients:

  • C-Control rather than complacency. Be the master of your assignment. Assert your rightful authority. This can also mean saying ‘No’. Always avoid becoming complacent.
  • H- Help inmates to help themselves. Instead of doing things for them, explain how they can do it for themselves through the system.
  • U- Understand the inmate culture and demographics of your patient population.  For example, it is common for inmates to lack stable relationships in their lives and be involved with excessive drug or alcohol use.
  • M- Maintain a safe professional distance. Keep the patient’s knowledge about you at a minimum. Don’t accept gifts from patients.
  • P- Stay professional and adhere to policies and procedures. Know what your agency expects of you. Be well-groomed and professional looking.
  • S- Stressed out staff are vulnerable. Work stress, home stress, or financial stress can lead to manipulation.

Additional Resources on Patient Manipulation in Corrections:

How to Work with Inmate-Patients Part 1: Be Alert for the Con

How to Work with Inmate-Patients Part 2: Are You a Target

How to Work with Inmate Patients Part III: Watch for These Techniques

How to Work with Inmate Patients Part IV: Protecting Yourself

In the Nursing News

Pharmacological interventions for sleepiness and sleep disturbances caused by shift work

Published this month in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a thorough review of sleepiness and sleep disturbances related to shift work with findings that 1-10 mg of melatonin may increase sleep length during the day after a night shift by 24 minutes. They also found that caffeine plus pre-shift napping decreased sleepiness.

Idaho Reports Alarming Rise in Whooping Cough Cases

Although more dangerous for infants and children, the CDC reports that adults frequently contract the infection and then pass it along to children. They recommend a vaccination booster for whooping cough for all adult. This is combined with tetanus and diphtheria and often called the TDAP. So check that out for yourself. We come in contact with a lot of infections in our facilities

Cocaine Use and Risk of Strokes

The National Center of Epidemiology performed a systematic review of previously published research and concluded that cocaine use increases stroke risk. If cocaine is a drug of choice for your patient population, be on the lookout for stroke symptoms in even your younger patients with a drug history.

Patient Safety and Correctional Nursing Care

Traffic cones and hardhat. Road sign. Icon isolated on white bacAccording to the Wall Street Journal, enough Americans are kills by medical errors each week to fill four jumbo jets. Patients are rarely told of errors made during their care and the same errors often happen over and over again. A third of hospitalized patients experience a medical error and 7% are permanently harmed or die as a result of an error. The annual cost of medical errors has been reported to be upwards of 17 billion. How about in our own specialty? How can we reduce errors to improve our patient outcomes and reduce costs?

Correctional nurses have the most contact with the correctional patient population and, therefore, improvements in the way nursing care is delivered can improve patient safety in our setting.  A good place to start is by considering the application of patient safety principles developed for traditional health care settings to the organization and delivery of nursing care in our setting.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) commissioned a consensus report on nurse activities toward patient safety in 2003. KEEPING PATIENTS SAFE: Transforming the Work Environment of Nurses provides expert recommendations for nurse-workforce efforts toward patient safety that can be applied in the correctional setting. Here are some key recommendations that apply to our specialty:

  • Fatigue leads to errors: Nurses should not work longer than 12 hours in a 24-hour period and in excess of 60 hours per 7-day period. Airplane pilots have a limit on number of hours in the air. Nurses make decisions that affect the health and safety of their patients. Limiting mental and physical fatigue is just as important in our field.
  • Busyness leads to errors: Nurses should have limited involvement in non–value-added activities, such as locating and obtaining supplies, looking for personnel, completing redundant and unnecessary documentation, and compensating for poor communication systems. Improving systems to reduce nurse involvement in these activities will free up time for important patient safety functions.
  • Communication reduces errors: Systems for communication among and between health care disciplines will reduce communication gaps and increase patient safety.
  • Orientation and training reduces errors: The onboarding and ongoing education of nursing staff is vital to increase patient safety in the fast-paced changes of health care. Attention to the development of all new and incumbent staff members will reduce error.

Can we improve patient safety in correctional healthcare? This short list is a good place to start. What is your facility doing to reduce medical errors? Share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.

This post originally appeared in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog.

Photo Credit: © Aleksandr Bedrin –