Nursing Ethics: About The Weather

by Ruby Vee 9,680 Views | 35 Comments

When you choose to take a job where care is provided 24/7, it's your responsibility to cover your shift. Plan ahead for weathers and other disasters.

  1. 17
    Winter is over here, and summer is on its way. I count myself to be fortunate in the extreme that I didnít have to stay overnight at the hospital this winter. Yet it seemed to snow every single time I had a stretch of night shift. Iím not quite sure how Mother Nature knew it was my turn to work nights!!

    Itís tornado season -- or almost -- in the midwest where I grew up, hurricane season is right around the corner and of course earthquakes occur without any warning and volcanic eruptions arenít really seasonal. Or are they? Snow and hurricanes seem to be the issues that engender the most discussion on the forums. ďItís not worth my lifeĒ to drive to work in the snow is written over and over. And there are people who insist that because they are parents or single parents or have dogs, elderly parents, elderly neighbors or a chronic illness, they ought not to be ďforcedĒ to come to work during a hurricane.

    Iíve been a nurse for a long time, and there have always been one or two folks in every unit who call in sick the moment the meteorologist predicts snow. Or whatever the weather situation of your choice. Usually itís the same nurses every time, and the manager can predict who is going to call in sick the moment she sees the weather report. And usually itís those who live closest to the hospital who absolutely cannot make it to work . . . although there are a few who have chosen to live a hundred miles from the hospital where they have chosen to work who find driving to work in inclement weather too much of a burden.

    If youíve chosen to live in a neighboring state, in the mountains, across the Sound, over the Canadian border or in a commune without phone service, that was your choice. And if youíve chosen to work in the hospital farthest from your home because the pay is better, opportunities are better or you have great benefits, thatís your choice as well. If youíve taken a job in a care situation that requires coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that was your choice. Iím not sure how you could possibly have missed this, but you chose to take a position that required you to brave the elements and show up for work in bad weather. During thunderstorms and tornado watches and blizzards and even hurricanes.

    If you live where it snows, buy decent tires, keep your car well-maintained and learn how to drive in the snow. Itís your responsibility to show up for work. Pack a bag on November first and keep it ready with a change of scrubs (or two), clean underwear, toiletries, three days worth of prescription medicines and possibly a cell phone charger. If you wear contacts, bring spares or your glasses. I keep make-up (since I look hideous without it) and a good book in mine, since I know I wonít be sleeping much. I also bring my spare CPAP machine. At least at work I know there will be electricity! If you cannot get home from work and then back in again, itís your responsibility to stay. If you donít want to risk sleeping in the Pre-Op holding area on a guerney or in an empty patient room, rent yourself a hotel room within walking distance from the hospital. Or plan to stay with a friend. Or trade shifts with someone who lives close enough to work. Itís YOUR responsibility to cover your shift. Make arrangements for your children, your pets and your elderly parents. Some hospitals let you bring them to work. DH puts our largest dog kennel in the back of his minivan and we bring our dog to work. He has to stay in the back of the car in the parking garage, but Dhís job lets him go out frequently to feed, water and walk Mike and Mikeís coat is plenty thick in the winter time.

    Iíve no personal experience with hurricanes, but DH informs me that you have days of notice when one is on the way. Your hospital has a hurricane plan. Itís your responsibility to know what it is and to make preparations to be there before the storm hits, stay as long as required and to have made arrangements for pets, elderly parents and small children ahead of time. Yes, it sucks to be far away from your little ones when a storm is raging. When Mt. St. Helenís exploded in Washington State, my god-daughterís elementary school was in a danger area. Dad was a cop, Mom a nurse. None of us were allowed to leave our patients or our work to go after her. Watching my best friend go through that agony was agonizing for me as well. Mona had to depend upon her daughterís school to look after her, and upon the disaster plan she and her husband and put into place. But she did . . . and everyone came through the situation just fine except for one of the familyís cats who disappeared during the disaster. (He ran away from the neighbor who was taking care of him.)

    When you decide that you arenít obligated to come to work in bad weather or a disaster of some sort, youíre putting the burden (YOUR burden) upon others instead. If you donít come to work, your colleagues are going to have to work short, work doubles, or otherwise take up your slack. If you donít feel you should have to drive to work in the snow, donít take a hospital or nursing home job in the snow belt. Look for a job where they donít expect you to have to show up when the roads are bad. If you take a job where youíre expected to make it to work no matter what, you owe it to your job, your patients, your colleagues and yourself to make an honest effort.

    After all, you donít want to know yourself to be a slacker, do you?
    herring_RN, GrnTea, nurse.sandi, and 14 others like this.
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  3. About Ruby Vee

    Ruby Vee learned how to drive in snow very early on. Tornadoes are scary, but the earth really ought to hold still!

    Ruby Vee joined Jun '02 - from 'the Midwest'. Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. Posts: 8,427 Likes: 30,008; Learn more about Ruby Vee by visiting their allnursesPage


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    35 Comments so far...

  4. 9
    When personal risk is assumed greater than the reward people will do the logical thing and call out. How about mandated hazardous duty pay?
  5. 6
    Sorry, don't agree. When police agencies close the roads, I stay home. I live in an area where I am close to Lake Ontario, we get freak lake effect storms. You can't see past your windshield. I don't make a habit of it, only when the roads are not plowed because it's snowing so hard they pull the plows off the road. Sorry Ruby, I usually agree with you, but not this time. Lake effect cannot be predicted easily where I live.
  6. 8
    This author makes many good points, but overall has an apparently limited experience with weather and an altered perception of what it means to be a professional. Professional commitment does not mean "at all hazards," not even for firefighters or the police. Nobody shows up during a disaster until they've safeguarded their family first.

    This author is clearly has little understanding how bad and unpredictable weather can be around the country/world.

    If you live where it snows, buy decent tires, keep your car well-maintained and learn how to drive in the snow.
    Great advice! Now would you please get everyone else to do that? Could you get the semis to obey chain restrictions too? I'm not the several people (local or tourist) who wrecked and closed the highway for 6 hours when it only snowed a few inches.

    That said, I've seen the roads so bad that I was literally sliding sideways at 1mph with top-of-the-line snow tires and AWD... headed towards the flipped chained-up van... barely made it. Sometimes it IS that bad. Sometimes you CANNOT see past the end of your bumper for days.

    Pack a bag on November first and keep it ready
    1. Always pack a bag. ALWAYS. 2. Snow precautions for my area start in September and end in June... of course it will snow a foot on the 4th of July if it pleases.

    Sometimes the forecast is for "1-2 inches overnight" and you wake up to 18 inches, closed roads, etc well... the weather forecaster still gets paid and life happens. You can say leave early, but if a 20 minute drive turns into 4 hours, then people are going to be late.

    Roads close. If your response is "you should have come to work a day early and slept here," you'd better be paying me enough to justify it. It is not professional to work for free.
    Last edit by SummitRN on Apr 16, '11
  7. 3
    Quote from summitap
    this author makes many good points, but overall has an apparently limited experience with weather and an altered perception of what it means to be a professional. professional commitment does not mean "at all hazards," not even for firefighters or the police. nobody shows up during a disaster until they've safeguarded their family first.

    this author is clearly has little understanding how bad and unpredictable weather can be around the country/world.

    great advice! now would you please get everyone else to do that? could you get the semis to obey chain restrictions too? i'm not the several people (local or tourist) who wrecked and closed the highway for 6 hours when it only snowed a few inches.

    that said, i've seen the roads so bad that i was literally sliding sideways at 1mph with top-of-the-line snow tires and awd... headed towards the flipped chained-up van... barely made it. sometimes it is that bad. sometimes you cannot see past the end of your bumper for days.

    1. always pack a bag. always. 2. snow precautions for my area start in september and end in june... of course it will snow a foot on the 4th of july if it pleases.

    sometimes the forecast is for "1-2 inches overnight" and you wake up to 18 inches, closed roads, etc well... the weather forecaster still gets paid and life happens. you can say leave early, but if a 20 minute drive turns into 4 hours, then people are going to be late.

    roads close. if your response is "you should have come to work a day early and slept here," you'd better be paying me enough to justify it. it is not professional to work for free.
    the author has lived in the mountains of washington state. if the snow is so bad that the roads are closed, the hospital will often send out four wheel drive vehicles (or in one instance, snow cats) to pick up the staff. if it's your shift to work and you haven't managed to find someone else to cover it, then you need to be out front waiting with your bag packed when the ride appears. patients are vulnerable people and we've signed up to take care of them 24/7. roads do close -- but there are usually alternatives. sometimes those alternatives involve coming to town a day early and renting a motel room or sleeping at a friend's home.

    the author understands bad and unpredictable weather, but the author has seen too many people who use bad weather as an excuse to stay home in front of the fire drinking hot toddies rather than coming to work their shift. if all the roads are closed, the hospital isn't sending out a boat or a chopper to pick you up and you've had no warning to prepare in advance, that's one thing. but the article is aimed more at those who have a tendency to fold their arms, lie back and say "it's not my fault i couldn't make it to work. it snowed." none of us have to look very far to find co-workers like that.

    if a 20 minute drive turns into four hours, people are going to be late. but if you're on the road headed to work, the staff you're relieving may only have to work 16 hours rather than 24 or 36. (because you know that the nurse who decided not to show up for her day shift because it's snowing today isn't going to come to work tonight to relieve those who have been there for 24 hours if it's her night off!)

    in decades of nursing, i've missed just one shift because of the weather -- when the snowmobile sent by the hospital to pick me up couldn't get through the snow to my home. the snow was so deep i couldn't find my car, much less dig it out. i put on my cross country skis and skiied 2 miles to the main road -- but the hospital drivers couldn't get there either. i made it in to work 12 hours late after the plows had made a path and relieved some of the folks who had been working most of the previous 24 hours.

    perhaps my perceptions of professionalism are indeed altered as you say. i still think that if you've contracted to show up for your shift, you ought to have a disaster plan in place so that you can do so. yes, it sucks to leave your family with the lights off and snow so high you had to climb out a second story window . . . but do you think the weather is any better on the other side of town? someone has to take care of the patients.
    Who?Me?, annlewis, and Chin up like this.
  8. 1
    Quote from Ruby Vee
    the hospital will often send out four wheel drive vehicles (or in one instance, snow cats) to pick up the staff. If it's your shift to work and you haven't managed to find someone else to cover it, then you need to be out front waiting with your bag packed when the ride appears.
    YOUR HOSPITAL OWNED A SNOWCAT?? Wow! But short of a snowcat, my vehicle is outfitted such that it is generally among the last still capable of driving on the roads before (or after) they close. Well, if a hopital is going to send out a cat or a sled to pick me up, I'll be there waiting, who could possibly refuse? That said, they'd have to steal a cat from the ski hill.

    The author understands bad and unpredictable weather, but the author has seen too many people who use bad weather as an excuse to stay home in front of the fire drinking hot toddies rather than coming to work their shift. If all the roads are closed, the hospital isn't sending out a boat or a chopper to pick you up and you've had no warning to prepare in advance, that's one thing. But the article is aimed more at those who have a tendency to fold their arms, lie back and say "it's not MY fault I couldn't make it to work. It snowed." None of us have to look very far to find co-workers like that.
    I can't argue with this paragraph. (Except I'd worry if the hospital sent a helicopter during a blizzard )

    I'm glad you do acknowledge that there are freak weather occurrences that are not predictable and can make people late. We do agree that an individual ought to try to find coverage. However, I don't feel professionally bound to show up at work 24-48 hours early if nobody is going to pay me. I sure as heck am not going to pay for a hotel room. (For the record, hospitals around here DO pay for employees having to show up early, sleep at the hospital/hotel, and rent hotel rooms for them too, which makes it hard to argue).

    I put on my cross country skis and skiied 2 miles to the main road
    You and I might be able to do that, but until that becomes part of the NCLEX, good luck in expecting it from most nurses many of whom are not athletically capable of such a feat.
    Last edit by SummitRN on Apr 17, '11
    Bella'sMyBaby likes this.
  9. 6
    OK so where does this leave the hospital that cancels my shift? I signed on to work a 36hr week, yet they cancel me without so much as blinking an eye. They cancel, I cancel, its all fair game. Lets play ball.
  10. 0
    Quote from summitap
    your hospital owned a snowcat??
    nope. they borrowed it. i personally didn't get to ride in it though because i lived in town and cross country skiied to work.

    i can't argue with this paragraph. (except i'd worry if the hospital sent a helicopter during a blizzard )[/quote]

    not during a blizzard -- during a flood. they sent boats, too. the helicopter was reserved for vips.

    i'm glad you do acknowledge that there are freak weather occurrences that are not predictable and can make people late. we do agree that an individual ought to try to find coverage. however, i don't feel professionally bound to show up at work 24-48 hours early if nobody is going to pay me. i sure as heck am not going to pay for a hotel room. (for the record, hospitals around here do pay for employees having to show up early, sleep at the hospital/hotel, and rent hotel rooms for them too, which makes it hard to argue).

    mine will rent hotel rooms, but you have to share -- last winter there were three employees in a king sized bed and two on the pull-out sofa. not exactly luxurious accomodations when you're packed in like sardines. i was happier in my private cubicle in pre-op holding, and my nurse manager brought a camprest mattress and slept under her desk.

    you and i might be able to do that, but until that becomes part of the nclex, good luck in expecting it from most nurses many of whom are not athletically capable of such a feat.[/quote]

    if *i* can ski two miles, just about anyone can do it -- i have bad knees and a bad back and i'm old and fat! of course you have to have the equipment at home already.
  11. 5
    ruby i am curious to hear your response to barby ann. why is this overwhelming commitment only a one way obligation? why does the nurse have to climb a mt everest in 200mph winds then rapell down to the hotel where she can sleep 5 to a bedroom for a day or two before work only to show up and be told "well.. the census is a little low, so why don't you go home?"

    Quote from ruby vee
    if *i* can ski two miles, just about anyone can do it -- i have bad knees and a bad back and i'm old and fat! of course you have to have the equipment at home already.
    well... i guess everyone just needs to harden up...

    i'd love to see the discrimination lawsuit if someone was terminated or disciplined for not skiing to work if they weren't fit or didn't have the gear.
    TiddlDwink, systoly, Kringe38, and 2 others like this.
  12. 7
    its not stated in my job discription to put my life in danger to report to work, considering the pts i take care of would never do the same for me. however i will make a honest attempt to report to work until i feel unsafe. the hospital will not pay for your car insurance deduct. even though you crashed it busting your arse comming to work in a blizzard.
    DesertRN2, Psychtrish39, TiddlDwink, and 4 others like this.


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