Nurses’ ethical challenges when providing care in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic

Nursing Ethics 30 (1):32-45 (2023)
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Abstract

Background: Older, frail patients with multimorbidity are at an especially high risk for disease severity and death from COVID-19. The social restrictions proved challenging for the residents, their relatives, and the care staff. While these restrictions clearly impacted daily life in Norwegian nursing homes, knowledge about how the pandemic influenced nursing practice is sparse. Aim: The aim of the study was to illuminate ethical difficult situations experienced by Norwegian nurses working in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research design and participants: The research design involved semistructured individual interviews conducted with 15 nurses working in 8 nursing homes in 3 health regions in Norway, within both urban and rural areas. Ethical considerations: Oral and written information about the study was provided before the participants gave their written consent. The transcribed interviews were de-identified. The study was approved by the Norwegian Centre for Research Data. Findings: Four ethical difficult situations were identified: (a) turning the nursing home into a prison; (b) using medication to maintain peace and order; (c) being left alone with the responsibility; and (d) s. impact on decision-making. Conclusions: The nurses’ ethical challenges were intertwined with external factors, such as national and local guidelines, and the nurses’ own internalized factors, which were connected to their subjective professionality. This duality inflicted emotional distress and gave nurses few opportunities to perform nursing in a professionally sound and safe manner.

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