According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), the health care and social assistance sector will account for almost a third of the projected job growth between 2012 and 2022. With 16,971,800 healthcare workers employed in the United States in 2012 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013), accommodations for those with disabilities working, or planning to work in, the healthcare field is a timely topic to be discussing.
With the over ten thousand calls JAN has received related to accommodations in healthcare settings, JAN consultants can offer a wealth of experience with accommodation situations. For healthcare workers with motor impairments such as carpal tunnel, back conditions, leg impairments, or arthritis, certain job duties – tasks such as lifting, carrying, moving, transferring, standing, walking, manipulating extremities, and positioning individuals for activities of daily living or physical therapy – may be difficult to perform without accommodations.
There are a variety of accommodation options that can be implemented in order for an employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Proper lifting techniques, lowering adjustable exam tables and equipment (low-lipped showers), ergonomic layouts for equipment (cranks and handles on beds and carts) and supplies (storing items at waist height, lowering bed rails when attending to patient needs, etc.), and team lifting are beneficial work site and procedural changes.
Still, accommodation situations in healthcare settings can be tricky or complicated. When this is the case, JAN consultants might turn to other experts in the field for assistance so that those contacting us for guidance are provided with the most beneficial and accurate information. For this two part blog, I collaborated with the founder of the non-profit resource network Exceptional Nurse, Dr. Donna Carol Maheady, to discuss 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 first three questions and offering resources and information on the topic.
1) For medical professionals with either a hand or arm amputation OR restrictions that limit the use of one hand, what are some alternative methods for giving injections? What about placing IV’s?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a reasonable accommodation must be provided to enable a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job currently held. In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Job restructuring may be the most effective form of accommodation for individuals who have limited or no use of one hand and are working in healthcare positions that require them to perform injections, place IV’s, etc. 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 placing an IV, an individual with a disability 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. Time to practice clinical skills or tasks may be needed as part of the accommodation.
A number of videos and articles are offered as an additional resource to support the work of those with motor impairments in healthcare settings:
A sequence of photos demonstrating the donning of sterile gloves with one hand can be found within the article: “Nursing with the Hand You Are Given”
Articles and Book Chapters
In the book Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses Working with Disabilities by Donna Maheady, Susan Fleming (nurse born missing her left hand) wrote a chapter about her journey.
In the book The Exceptional Nurse: Tales from the Trenches of Truly Resilient Nurses Working with Disabilities, edited by Donna Maheady, Connie Stallone Adleman wrote a chapter called “Loving Ourselves Exactly as We Are: Nursing after a Stroke.”
In the article “Missing a Limb but Not a Heart,” Carey Amsden, RN, discussed how she practiced performing certain job tasks with the use of one arm, such as starting an IV, and donning a sterile glove in nursing school and has been able to successfully work in the field of nursing.
2) For medical professionals who need to wear a brace or post-burn glove, how can concerns around sterility be addressed?
An employer may require as a qualification standard that an individual not pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the individual or others, if this standard is applied to all applicants for a particular job. Additionally, employers may comply with medical and safety requirements established under other Federal laws without violating the ADA.
However, an employer still has an obligation to consider whether there is a reasonable accommodation, consistent with the requirements of other Federal laws, which would not exclude individuals who can perform jobs safely. In situations where sterility is a concern, alternatives to standard practices should be explored with the individual.
One option could be for the employee to wear a sterile glove (perhaps a larger size), gown or drape over the brace or glove. In doing this, sterility would be addressed to the same standard that others would be held to.
It is also recommended that the Infection Control Department or designee be consulted. There may be specific infection control issues related to a particular facility or unit to consider.
3) Are there alternatives to taking a leave of absence during flu season for medical professionals who are not able to receive the flu vaccine?
Flu season, in some areas, can last a while and a leave of absence may not be feasible or could pose an undue hardship to the employer. Alternative options for accommodating those who are not able to receive the flu vaccine can include: allowing the employee to wearing a mask or protective gear, reassigning the employee to a position that does not require direct-patient contact, considering flu shot alternatives, modifying a policy if applicable and depending on state law, or allowing an extended leave and offering reassignment to a vacant position upon return. For more information, see the following article: “Vaccinating the Health-Care Workforce: State Law vs Institutional Requirements.”
Next month we will be exploring schedule modifications and specific work tasks, so stay tuned!
Monthly Labor Review (2013). Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/industry-employment-and-output-projections-to-2022-1.htm