Thursday, October 12, 2017

Falling asleep on a home-care night shift spurs nurse's research

By Louise Kinross

Krista Keilty is a nurse practitioner and visiting scholar at the Bloorview Research Institute who studies parents who care for children who require a “mini-ICU” at home. These children have complex medical problems, use ventilators, and require round-the-clock observation. Krista has cared for these children and families as a nurse at SickKids—where she taught their parents the skills to transfer home—and as a home-care nurse.

In 2015, Krista published a study that found parents of kids who use ventilators at home risk their own health because they struggle to sleep—even when a nurse is in the home. More recently, she’s interviewed parents and home-care nurses to study the factors that contribute to poor parent sleep. She works at SickKids and Holland Bloorview to improve the care and training families of children with ventilators receive as they move from SickKids to Holland Bloorview, and then home.

BLOOM: How did you get into this field?

Krista Keilty: I came to pediatric nursing straight out of undergrad. It was my favourite clinical placement. At the time, I was living in Fredericton and there were very few jobs in New Brunswick. But SickKids was recruiting across the country and set up in a hotel room in Fredericton. In less than an hour, they had me sign a contract and I agreed to move from Fredericton to Toronto, to a hospital and city I had never visited.

BLOOM: Wow. What was your first job there?

Krista Keilty:
I was a staff nurse on the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) floor, which included a constant-care room for children with chronic complex needs—most of whom had a tracheotomy. I became very interested in being one of the primary nurses training families in preparation for their move home. We didn’t have respiratory therapists then, so nursing had a prominent role.

BLOOM: Given it was your first job out of school, were you nervous to be working with children who required such a high degree of care?

Krista Keilty: I don’t remember being nervous about caring for children with traches. I remember my eyes being wide open in a very large organization, with lots happening and so many opportunities in front of me.

I was warmly embraced by a number of really caring, longstanding ENT nurses who mentored me with a lot of enthusiasm. I learned that trache skill-set early in my career. In the day they called us ‘trache-trained,’ and we travelled around the building as needed.

BLOOM: What is your research focused on now?

Krista Keilty: Understanding the experience of families providing comprehensive medical care for their child at home has been the foundation of my career. Fast forward many years, my research focus is building a program that examines the experiences and outcomes of caregivers when children depend on technology and require constant observation. If a machine were not to function, there would be a negative outcome for the child.

BLOOM: Two years ago we did a story about your study showing parents of children who use ventilators at home are sleep-deprived, and this puts them at risk for physical and mental health problems. Did that study lead to any policy changes that enable families to get more nursing hours?

Krista Keilty: Not a lot has changed, except that everything has changed. With the community care access centres (CCAC) moving to the local health integrated networks (LHIN), there is interest in the LHIN looking at new models of integrated care and funding packages for pediatric home care. At least two LHINs, including Toronto Central, have tested self-directed funding, and the evaluations are pending. A recent Ontario announcement suggests there will be movement towards families having more say about their care, but the details are pending.

Not much has changed in access to home-care nursing. Family voices are being heard better, but change to new ways of doing things is slow. Discharges are delayed while families wait for home care to be available, and once home, the amount of care received is often inadequate.

I think that targeting improvements in [parent] sleep and respite remains a priority. We co
ntinue to build evidence to plan an intervention around the sleep disturbance we’ve documented. I’m doing a follow-up study here at Holland Bloorview where we examine the perceptions of family caregivers and home-care nurses about the factors influencing sleep disturbance.

BLOOM: What have you learned?

Krista Keilty: We heard from families about the inability to turn off the switch of worry and vigilance, even when a nurse is in the home to watch the child. Whether we call that insomnia or constant vigilance, that’s one area of work that may lend itself to behaviourally-based interventions.

Another major finding was the use of personal technology to help parents monitor their child or monitor the nurse. Families describe nurses falling asleep often.

Parents may have a baby monitor visible at their bedside with the volume turned on. Or they may ask nurses to text updates on their child throughout the night, from the child’s bedroom to their bedroom.

We know the influence of technology on sleep is a public health concern in the general population, and it’s likely a large source of interference with caregiver sleep.

BLOOM: But if a parent is afraid the nurse may fall asleep, it sounds like there are good reasons to use a monitor.

Krista Keilty: Consistency, continuity and competency in the nurses is important. Nursing agencies have a real challenge filling these shifts.

Right now, the duration of shifts is not well aligned with sleep needs. If you only have six-hour nursing shifts but you need eight hours of sleep, you’re already clipping your sleep to provide the hand over to the nurse.

Another study we’ve submitted for publication examined the use of unregulated caregivers for a longer shift—so hiring nannies, university students and others who are not classically trained for the work.

We studied 20 families who identified and trained a provider around competency and the family’s values about how they would like the care provided. They used some public and some private dollars to pay them. We wanted to know if having an unregulated caregiver who worked a longer duration of shift was an acceptable way of supporting the families.

BLOOM: How did that work out?

Krista Keilty: The families didn’t communicate any safety concerns with unregulated caregiver use. They did speak about a large burden on them to identify, hire and train these caregivers. They didn’t always feel confident that they knew how to do that, and there was no formal support system to help them.

But they also told us they appreciated having them as part of their care team. They often fit in well with the families and, once trained, offered competent and compassionate care.

BLOOM: Can you talk about what it’s like to be a home-care nurse on a night shift?

Krista Keilty: We’ve asked nurses that question in our recent study. They tell us that the nature of the work is very difficult. It can be isolating and lonely. It’s not like working in a busy hospital at night, where you have colleagues who can help you stay awake.

Not only are home-care nurses working in isolation, but one of the instructions from many families is to work in the dark, so they don’t wake the child or the family. But being in the dark is the most major cue for sleep. In a focus group, I asked how many home-care nurses had fallen asleep on the job, and there was a lot of nodding in the room.

BLOOM: Can you tell us about your own experience falling asleep on a shift?

Krista Keilty: Early in my career, when I was working as an ENT nurse at SickKids, I was also employed by a home-care nursing agency. A number of us at SickKids and Holland Bloorview were moonlighting. We did this to support the families as they started to leave the hospitals with medical technology.

One day, I got a call late in the afternoon to do a home-care shift that evening. It wasn’t uncommon to get last-minute calls. That day I hadn’t worked at SickKids, but it was my day off, and I’d been at the beach. I was sunburned and tired and in no frame of mind to be staying up all night. I declined the shift—many, many times.

They kept calling back, and I felt a lot of pressure. Finally, the actual owner of the agency called me, and she wasn’t taking no for an answer. The shift was in Oakville and I’d never travelled outside of Toronto, since I was from New Brunswick. The owner told me to get on the GO train and she’d pick me up in Oakville and drive me to the house at 11 p.m. I’d be working with a family I’d never met, with a child whose care I wasn’t familiar with, in the dark.

The child was on the main floor of a large suburban home. I met the family at the door and they briefly went over the child’s care plan and showed me the equipment. The boy was asleep, non-verbal, and on a ventilator. The parents went off to bed and I did my initial assessment of the child and provided care for a number of hours.

Sometime between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m., which tends to be the witching hour for safety incidents related to sleeping on the job, because it’s the hardest time to stay awake physiologically, I fell asleep. The father woke me up when he heard the kangaroo pump beeping, from a distance, in this large home.

I was forever changed. I realized I’d let him down and put the child at risk by not being available to the child when clearly this was an alarm to be alert to. I failed to hear it. I tried hard to have a conversation with the family the next morning about it, but they dismissed me, and I’m sure they never wanted to see me again.

BLOOM: How did this experience change you?

Krista Keilty: I had to reflect on how the provider-family relationship was structured in such a way that I was postured to be the expert, when clearly, just the fact that I had the title ‘registered nurse,’ didn’t mean I was good enough that night. I was trained on the technical side for this child’s care, but I didn’t know the family and I didn’t have a rapport with them.

I was a caring, hard-working, professional nurse, so I knew I was probably one among many who had let the family down and posed a safety risk. And, importantly—I knew I had threatened that family’s ability to get respite in the future, even when a nurse was in the home.

BLOOM: Because they would be afraid it would happen again.

Krista Keilty: Yes. This was a pivotal story in my career that spurred the idea for my PhD study.

BLOOM: What do parents say is the greatest challenge caring for their child at home?

Krista Keilty: They continue to tell us that it’s the complexity of the health system—that navigating that system takes a lot of their time and energy. In another study, I looked at the ways families spend their time. The ‘case-management’ they did for their child was a large time consumer, and it was also the most stressful part of what they did.

That’s partly why I’m excited to be here in this role. I’m working on a quality improvement project to support the families’ transition from SickKids to Holland Bloorview and then home. I’m trying to smooth those processes, and we have families engaged to tell us what it needs to look like.

BLOOM: In addition to sleep deprivation, I saw a paper you wrote that talked about how having a child with complex needs at home affects the family financially.

Krista Keilty: Yes. We’ve documented that income levels of family caregivers are less than those of a community-based sample with healthy children. Family caregivers of children with medical complexity are under-employed at a time when many would be in their highest, income-earning years.

The burden, for families, has been documented, in terms of negative impact on income, depression and anxiety, and in work by Dr. Eyal Cohen at SickKids and others, even shorter lifespans in mothers due to premature death. These data spur me, and others, on.

BLOOM: What emotions do you experience working with these families?

Krista Keilty: The gamut. I've learned that I'm highly empathic to the emotions of those in my environment. Given families can be sad and angry at times, then I find I can feel this way, too. Providers can be angry, or at least highly frustrated. But instead of feeling downcast, I most often feel happy and excited for what is possible. Families frequently experience uplifts and share their joys and hopes, which I find contagious.

They are very very thankful when their care is compassionate and supportive. Clinical and research colleagues are also energizing. I'm a big believer in the power of sleep. I need a lot of it. And it helps me get up every day with the will and ability to take on new challenges and cope with whatever comes my way. And, of course, a walk in Spiral Garden is always good for the soul.


This is happening to my family right now. My daughter has a trach, it saved her life after being born 3 months premature. Now that my maternity leave is over, I can't get nursing to care for her at daycare. So I can't work. My benefits cover her equipment and supplies, which will end of I'm unable to return. I learned to sleep through all her machines noises, and now I'm losing sleep from a very uncertain future. Night nurses is only one part of how parents and families are losing sleep.

Wow, you are doing great work and are very inspirational.