By: Elisabeth Simpson, Lead Consultant – Motor Team
In this final segment of the 2-part Blog on accommodations for healthcare workers with motor impairments, JAN Lead Consultant Elisabeth Simpson, MS., CRC, in collaboration with the founder of the non-profit resource network Exceptional Nurse, Dr. Donna Carol Maheady, continues the discussion on some of the more complex accommodation questions JAN Motor Team consultants are fielding. Seven questions were directed to Dr. Maheady. This month we will be looking at the remaining four questions and offering resources and information on the topic.
1) When a limited schedule is needed (e.g., 10 hour shift in place of a 12 hour shift), would allowing this for one nurse on a unit really be a hardship for the other nurses working?
The accommodation of a schedule modification, as well as modifications of a workplace policy regarding scheduling, are a couple of types of accommodations an employer would need to consider providing, absent undue hardship. The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers guidance on this area of accommodation that might be useful for an employer or individual to review.
According to Dr. Maheady, in some cases an employer may be able to limit an individual’s schedule without it posing a hardship. However, in most situations, nurses are working with limited staff and adding additional work can be problematic for various reasons. Safe staffing ratios are critical to patient care outcomes and allowing a nurse to leave early or come in late could impact safe staffing ratios.
Alternative options could be to consider accommodations that would enable an individual to work the hours required. This could include periodic breaks, modifying policies around eating and drinking, providing equipment, or restructuring a job to reallocate marginal functions. Reassignment may be necessary if accommodations would not be effective or would pose a hardship. This type of accommodation may also be necessary if an individual needs to limit hours to the extent at which they would be working part time rather than full time.
2) For medical professionals with upper extremity limitations, what are some alternative ways to place a catheter (male or female)? Is maintaining a sterile field ever a concern?
It depends on many factors (age of patient, patient’s condition, etc.). For males, in some instances, it is appropriate to have the patient assist while placing the catheter. Also, if teaching the patient to self-catheterize (or a family member), this is part of the teaching/learning process.
What would work best is to have a second person, possibly a nurses’ aid or family member, don gloves and assist. Then the individual can don gloves, clean the meatus, and insert the catheter. Dr. Maheady notes that, in her experience, many nurses ask for assistance, disabled or not.
3) How can a medical professional who uses a cane or mobility device address concerns around sterilizing the device?
In these situations, Dr. Maheady recommends that the Infection Control Department or designee should always be consulted. There may be specific infection control issues related to a facility or unit. Collaboration with all parties in determining effective solutions can help to speed up the process and ensure that policies and procedures around sterilization are kept in mind.
Concerns around cane or wheelchair use in sterile medical environments can be addressed by:
- Having two wheelchairs available and keeping one chair in a sterile area. The individual could switch chairs in a dedicated area.
- Using wheelchair tire covers.
- Wheeling into the room with one pair of gloves and changing to a new pair of gloves before touching the patient.
- Surgical gowns could also be used to cover exposed areas of the chair.
- A long narrow plastic bag (like ones for wet umbrellas) could be used with a cane and taped around the cane to secure. Bags could be changed as needed.
It is important to note that in general patient care areas, nurses do not sterilize their shoes, sneakers or clogs. An employer would not want to unnecessarily impose more stringent rules or requirements for employees with disabilities as this could be a violation of the ADA.
4) When a patient lifting device is not available, what are some alternative options that a medical professional with a lifting restriction could consider?
This is another situation where job restructuring may be the most effective form of accommodation for individuals who have lifting restrictions and are working in healthcare positions that require them to lift. Job restructuring can be an adjustment in how and when a job is performed, including reallocating or eliminating marginal functions of a job. However, the EEOC has indicated that an employer is not required to reallocate essential functions of a job as a reasonable accommodation. Although an employer is not required to reallocate essential job functions, it may be a reasonable accommodation to modify the essential functions of a job by changing when or how they are done.
While there may be a common or typical way a job function is performed by healthcare workers, such as patient lifting techniques, individuals with a disabilities should be given the option to perform the same job task in a manner that works best for them while keeping patient care and safety in mind. For example, an individual could be permitted to ask for assistance when lifting a patient. Team lifting, or lift buddies, can also be a solution. However, there will still be risks associated with lifting patients and injuries can occur with any employee, not just those with restrictions. It is important to remember that team members have different strengths and body sizes and may contribute differently when lifting a patient.
Ultimately, if an individual is not able to lift patients even with accommodations, reassignment would need to be considered. Reassigning the individual to another unit (e.g., pediatrics, newborn nursery) where there is a vacant position could be explored.
JAN and Elisabeth would like to extend our appreciation to Dr. Maheady for her assistance in answering these common, but difficult questions related to healthcare workers with motor impairments. For assistance in determining accommodation options for individuals with motor impairments, JAN consultants are ready to assist!