Wednesday 23rd April 2008
On 19 June last year, Jan Keogh lost it.
The RN of 31 years crumbled under an extraordinary workload while working in a senior management position at a NSW regional hospital.
‘I collapsed in a hysterical heap. I was shaking and crying uncontrollably,’ she said.
Nothing in her career, including intensive care nursing in Sydney, had prepared her for running around in circles trying to plug chronic staffing shortages.
Jan had been looking after Junior Medical Officers, trying to recruit Locum Medical Officers, attempting to get emergency doctors for a subsidiary hospital and battling to keep base hospital ICU and rehab units operating.
At the time, there was one specialist for the 10-bed ICU. Over a 10-day period she couldn’t persuade a single doctor to come and assist.
A key medical position in rehab had sat empty for six months.
The deadline to complete an accreditation document for the hospital was also looming. And, in her spare time, Jan was two units shy of completing a Masters in Health Management.
‘I couldn’t get anybody to understand the gravity of our situation,’ she said. ‘I was aware of the chronic doctor shortage but I couldn’t shake the responsibility I felt personally for not being able to find cover.
‘In a nutshell, I was trying to do the jobs of two and a half people, unsupported. I couldn’t go on.
‘Now, I have been told, I have a degree of mental instability as a result of the workload.’
She laughs at the terminology. ‘Well, thank goodness I can. You have to laugh or you just stay there and it is not a good place to be.
‘One day I was a woman with the capacity to do a university Masters and the next I couldn’t get my kids out of bed.’
One of the first things she had to confront was the embarrassment of being reliant on Workers’ Compensation.
Reality couldn’t have been more different.
For a start, she had six months to recover or her family faced life on a statutory rate of $365 a week. Employer liability made no difference to that entitlement.
She had to deal with doctors, psychologists, case managers and an insurance company (Treasury Managed Funds) determined to protect its client.
She puts her survival down to the support of the NSWNA and a handful of colleagues, including the general manager.
‘I don’t know how I would have come this far without her or the Nurses’ Association,’ Jan said.
‘The Association provided me with emotional support when I needed it but they also knew the legal situation and were able to take a lot of weight off my mind.
‘WorkCover is very frustrating. You have no idea what it is like until you are in it and realise you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
‘I was lucky because I have been here a long time and there are people who knew me as more than a number and went out of their way to support me.’
Last month, Jan returned to the hospital on restricted duties, working 18 hours a week and was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about her future.
‘I have determined [that] whatever I do from here, [it] will be in nursing,’ she said.