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It happened to me’: Promoting needle safety
Nurses tell personal stories of needlesticks
Been there; done that; got stuck. Sometimes the most convincing argument for using safer needles comes from someone who didn’t.
Testimonials have become an important tool to improve needle safety compliance at The Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg (SC) and Calhoun County. They began in 2002, when a home health nurse was stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle.
"She was very vocal about it. She was willing to speak to our staff," says Sonya Ehrhardt, RN, infection control nurse at Regional Medical Center. "It was a very emotional thing for her to do, and it had a big impact," she adds.
The hospital had implemented new safety devices, but staff kept stashes of the nonsafety devices they were so accustomed to. On the way to the home of an AIDS patient, the nurse hurriedly grabbed a nonsafety device. "It won’t matter," she thought to herself. "I won’t get stuck."
She was starting an IV catheter and set the needle down on the table while adjusting the heplock. The needle got stuck in her lab jacket, and then she felt it jab her hand.
She began the ordeal of post-exposure prophylaxis, worrying about her three children and husband, wondering if she would seroconvert. (She did not.)
Tearful testimonies are remembered
The nurse wanted others to learn from her experience. The hospital arranged for sessions at which she told her story; they were mandatory for all clinical staff.
"The room would be full and the staff would be crying, just listening to her. She really promoted the safety devices," Ehrhardt says.
"There wasn’t a dry eye in the house from the administration on down," adds Paula Bailey, CIC, RN, infection control practitioner. "Hopefully, it’s made them stop and think a little bit."
Since then, a nurse and a physician have been stuck by HIV-contaminated needles. They also are sharing their stories in the hospital’s sharps injury prevention newsletter.
The hospital is seeking better safety devices, and is trying out new alternatives. "None of them are perfect," Ehrhardt emphasizes. "There are good things and bad things about all of them."
Ehrhardt says she hopes the new devices will prevent someone from becoming another testimonial.
"It’s just an ongoing process, trying to find new ways to make them realize that it’s for their safety. Every time someone gets stuck, we end up getting another person willing to speak out, at least in [his or her] own department," adds.