May 04, 2022

Efficient Waste Management Can Help Improve Nurse Well-Being

May 6-12 marks National Nurses Week in the U.S., a week to honor the vital role nurses play in protecting the health and well-being of the communities they serve.

The past two years have been especially challenging for nurses as they cared for an influx of patients amid a global pandemic. The chaotic and high-stakes nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has left many nurses feeling burned out and exhausted. According to a 2021 study, 95% of nurses reported feeling burnt-out in their nursing position within the last three years.

In addition to the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and burnout, the nursing workforce is growing older. Between 2000 and 2018 the average age of nurses increased from 42.7 to 47.9. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that nurses over 50 made up 47.5% of the nurse workforce, a finding that suggests fewer young nurses are joining the profession.

As a result, the healthcare industry is facing, according to the American Nurses Association, “a crisis-level human resource shortage of nurses that puts [nurses’] ability to care for patients in jeopardy.” More than a third of nurses plan on leaving their jobs within a year. Moreover, a recent study found that nurses are more likely than any other clinicians to consider changing roles.

The nurse shortage may threaten healthcare organizations’ ability to provide adequate care to patients, even after the COVID-19 pandemic. The aging population may also contribute to an increase in the number of patients seeking care for chronic conditions that require intensive treatment—often in at-home settings. Reports suggest that 1.2 million new registered nurses (RNs) will be needed by 2030 to address this new patient influx and resolve the current nurse shortage.

Given these challenges, healthcare organizations should consider how they can help reduce the burden on nurses and take steps to protect their safety and well-being. By supporting their nurses and other employees, healthcare leaders can help safeguard the health of the patients and communities they serve. 

Simplifying Waste Management Can Be Key

Proper waste management is an often overlooked but potentially crucial part of creating safer and more efficient work environments for nurses. Stericycle’s Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report found that more than 90% of healthcare professionals surveyed believe effective medical waste management is key to providing the best patient care possible. On the other hand, those surveyed also reported that improper medical waste management contributes to fatigue and burnout (68%) and can negatively impact patient health and safety (72%). Nurses can save time and energy when they can dispose of medical waste through a streamlined process.

One way to simplify medical waste management for nurses is through commingling or consolidating certain waste streams, where permissible and feasible. For example, an organization may choose to commingle common wastes produced at the bedside, like sharps and pharmaceutical waste, if allowed by their regulators and waste vendor. Stericycle’s estimates suggest that commingling sharps and non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste can save nurses 2,520 minutes per week, which adds up to 2,184 hours per year that nurses can use to care for patients or rest.1 Commingling is also a way that nurses can potentially help reduce supply waste, such as plastic, and promote their organization’s sustainability initiatives, which Stericycle found is a key priority for many healthcare professionals.

Another way to support nurses through the medical waste management process is to provide adequate training. A complete understanding of how to stay compliant and safe when managing medical waste can help nurses feel confident and efficient when caring for patients in any situation. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals, especially those in at-home settings, feel under-prepared to safely manage medical waste. The Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report found that 92% of healthcare providers surveyed believe they need more training to uphold safe working conditions in at-home care settings. Healthcare organizations should provide regular, easy-to-understand compliance training to help protect the safety of healthcare providers and their patients. 

We Owe It to Our Nurses

Now more than ever, healthcare organizations should prioritize their nurses’ health and well-being. By improving the efficiency of waste management, your organization can help make nurses’ lives a little easier, freeing them to focus on what they do best—delivering compassionate and comprehensive patient care.

This Nurses Week, learn more about how Stericycle’s medical waste management solutions can help nurses save time and optimize efficiencies.

1. Assumptions: Based on 100 nurses per shift, 40% will waste meds, taking 90 seconds on average to dispose of medication in the med room 3 times in a 12-hour shift; 2 shifts per day.

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