Do No Harm
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Do No Harm

What did you expect?

It’s been more than two years since COVID began. Healthcare staffing shortages have been amplified for that long. The problem didn’t start then — it’s been a thing for decades — but that’s when it became a more widely publicized issue.

For two years, the public has been aware that there is a critical shortage of nurses. But that’s not all. There’s been a shortage of primary care doctors for decades. A shortage of techs. Aides. Transporters. Housekeepers. There’s a shortage of Paramedics on ambulances. A shortage of staff in clinics. Oh, and supplies — there are so many things on backorder! There’s even a critical shortage of some medications. To put it simply: there aren’t enough people in the right roles and there aren’t enough supplies for us to function properly.

We have been trained to think outside of the box and improvise. “Make do” with what we have. Absorb other roles. Work harder and faster.

But there’s a breaking point. We’ve been at the breaking point. For years.

The only reason the entire system hasn’t crashed already is a mystery. We are all hanging on by a thread.

When drawing blood from a patient, there is always a risk. You could accidentally poke yourself with the used needle, for example.

To minimize these risks, we have established “best practices” over time. We use vacuum-sealed blood tubes and a covered needle that prevents us from needlesticks, even if the device slips. It’s not the cheapest way to transfer blood into tubes, but it’s very safe. You can’t get pricked unless you carelessly shove your finger inside the device.

But what happens when this device is on backorder? Do we stop drawing blood? No, obviously not. We revert to the way of doing things before this device existed. We do a workaround.

We draw the blood into a syringe and use a blunt-tip needle to transfer the blood into the tubes. It’s not as safe as the covered-needle device, but it works. And if you’re careful, the needle is not likely to slip and poke you in the hand. Plus, it’s a blunt-tipped needle, so it shouldn’t pierce your skin if it does slip. Just be really careful and you should be fine.

But what about when the blunt-tip needles are on backorder? Well, there are regular needles — the kind we give shots with. Those will transfer blood into tubes, too. But you’re out of luck if that thing slips. That’ll jam right into your hand and infect you with whatever the patient has.

You see, we’re problem solvers. We work with what we have. But it’s risky. These standards and best practices were established for a reason. Asking us to constantly “make do” is asking us to constantly put ourselves at risk.

And this, among other things, contributes to staffing shortages. We were taught how to be safe, yet we are not given the supplies or infrastructure to perform that way in reality. It’s no wonder people quit. We don’t feel supported. We aren’t paid enough. And it’s constantly frustrating to do our jobs because of the shortages.

So, next time you hear about a negative experience someone had at the hospital or next time you hear a news story about long ER wait times or a surgical mixup where someone gets the wrong kidney removed, I ask you this:

What did you expect?

Seriously. What did you expect to happen to a system that is chronically underfunded and understaffed; to a staff that is underpaid and overworked and not given the right resources to perform their jobs?

Of course there will be mistakes. Of course things will take longer. People will be hurt. People will die.

Until we, as a society (and a government), decide to place a higher priority on healthcare and our healthcare workers, these problems will continue to get worse. We’ve known this for decades. And you’ve known it for at least two years.


Vote in your local elections for representatives who want to improve this system. There’s a bill waiting in the Senate right now that would help reduce workplace violence in healthcare. That would help! We need funding for supplies and more staff. We need workplace safety. We need help. We. Need. Help.

We are doing our best. Our leaders and administrators are doing their best. None of us are happy with the way things have been going. But until something bigger than all of us is changed, this will not get better. Don’t wait to complain about it until you or your loved one is in the hospital.

Do something about it now. Otherwise, you know exactly what you should expect.



Do No Harm is a collection of articles written by members of the medical field. Some are written for others in the profession, while others are intended for the general public. No articles are to be interpreted as medical advice; talk to your own doctor.

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David I. Mancini, RN

David I. Mancini is a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Paramedic. He’s a tech enthusiast, world traveler, and an eclectic eater.