Nurse who died by suicide inspires calls for change in health care system: ‘Need to take care of each other’

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

After Tristin Kate Smith, a 28-year-old emergency room nurse in Dayton, Ohio, took her own life on Aug. 7 of this year, her story went viral among nurses across the country after her father discovered a brutally honest letter she wrote before her death.

In the letter, the nurse called out the U.S. health care system as her “abuser.”

EMERGENCY ROOM NURSE, LOST TO SUICIDE, CALLED US HEALTH CARE SYSTEM HER ‘ABUSER’ IN HAUNTING LETTER

Several family members and friends shared with Fox News Digital this week some of their memories of Smith — as well as their hope for improvements to the health care system to prevent future tragedies.

“It’s hard to summarize the memories I have with my sister, because it’s not so much outrageous stories … but little moments,” Sarah Smith, the nurse’s older sister who is based in Canton, Ohio, told Fox News Digital in an email.

Daye Smith, another older sister who is based in Dayton, Ohio, called the nurse her “best friend.”

 “We had that closeness where you knew what the other was thinking by just a look,” she said.

“She was immensely kind and loyal, and saw the humor in even the bad situations,” Smith’s good friend, Kristin Butler, told Fox News Digital.

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Ron Smith of Dayton, Ohio, said he hopes his daughter’s story will inspire much-needed change so that more nurses do not succumb to her same fate.

“We need change,” he told Fox News Digital in an interview.

“I do not want her passing to be just a statistic.”

“If you want to fix the nursing profession, it’s not that complicated,” Erica, a national nurse advocate and popular social media influencer based in Las Vegas, Nevada, told Fox News Digital. (She did not want her last name used.)

“Hospital administrators are blaming the nursing crisis on a shortage, but there are enough nurses who can work,” she went on. 

“The issue is that they are leaving the profession because the conditions are unsustainable.”

The average length of a bedside nurse’s career is now only one to two years, Erica claimed.

Approximately 27% of nurses leave their jobs every year, according to a statistic posted on the American Nurses Association website.

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“Evidence-based research has repeatedly shown that for each additional patient a nurse is forced to take, there is a 7% to 10% increased risk of death or serious complications for all of the nurse’s patients,” said Erica.

Right now, California is the only state with mandated nurse-patient ratios, but Oregon has passed legislation on the issue that will go into effect next year.

“We have over 20 years of data from California showing improved nurse retention rates and improved patient outcomes since instituting the mandated ratios and lunch breaks,” said Erica.

Federal legislation has been proposed that would mandate nurse-to-patient staffing ratios nationwide, known as The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act.

“It has been reintroduced every year for approximately 15 years now, [but] every year the U.S. Senate fails to even hold a vote on it,” Erica noted.

The bill has been introduced to the House of Representatives, according to Congress.gov.

Nurses shouldn’t be in “constant fear” of getting fired, black-listed or reported to the Board of Nursing for speaking up about patient safety, said Erica.

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“Health care organizations need to be required to provide safe working conditions and to prioritize [eliminating] violence against health care workers,” she said.

“The vast majority of health care facilities do not have metal detectors, armed security, panic buttons, locked units or any other security measures,” the nursing advocate also warned.

Dr. Oren N. Gottfried, a neurosurgeon and professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, told Fox News Digital that “according to Doximity, studies show that 86% of doctors suffer from one or more definitions of burnout.”

Doximity is a platform that many medical professionals use to network and stay up-to-date on the latest health care developments.

Almost half of these physicians believe that decreasing the administrative burden would be the most effective way to reduce burnout, followed by improving and reducing clinical caseload, Gottfried noted.

“Personally, I find it sad that health care workers or nurses and doctors are suffering at these staggering rates,” he added.

“I feel we need to take care of each other with the same zest as we take care of patients.”

The doctor also called for more peer and administrative support.

“Mental health resources should be readily available to all health care workers — not just a one-and-done hotline, but ongoing support,” he said.

People need continuous help, Gottfried said, noting that every health care worker can benefit from a coach, therapist and regular peer check-ins for support.

“I am proud that some of my colleagues admit to having access to one or all of these resources, but I wish all [of them] did,” he said.

“Every nurse or doctor has the same or more clinical requirements to keep up with, but are tasked with so many new and ever-expanding administrative tasks.”

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The medical professionals are expected to offer the same quality of care but with limited time and resources, the doctor added.

“How much more can we squeeze out of each one of them before there are negative consequences?”

The American Nurses Association (ANA), a professional organization based in Maryland, noted in a statement to Fox News Digital that nurses’ mental health challenges and burnout are “symptomatic of a broken health care system that far too often fails to provide nurses [with] continuous support and to address chronic work environment challenges.”

The ANA called for leaders and employers to make a “concerted effort toward meaningful action at the legislative and institutional level to transform unhealthy work environments where nurses work and to encourage nurses to seek the help that they need.”

“Without this action, we will lose more bright lives like nurse Tristin Kate Smith and many others.” 

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