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Emergency nurses and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) were among the first to advocate letting families be present during resuscitation efforts if they wished. Drawing on experiences at Foote Hospital (Jackson, Mich.), the ENA developed a position statement in the early 1990s on facilitating family presence during resuscitation attempts. In recent years, many other professional organizations (including the American Heart Association, in its 2001 advanced cardiac life support provider manual) have formally supported family presence during resuscitation attempts.
Reports of family presence during resuscitation efforts are increasingly common, but experiences vary depending on who's in charge of the resuscitation team. Most facilities don't have formal policies on family presence, and many barriers to the practice remain. For example, many clinicians fear increased legal liability if families witness an unsuccessful effort. Other barriers include lack of room to accommodate extra people and lack of a support person to stay with the family and answer their questions. All of these barriers can-and should-be removed.
When asked, most health care professionals say they'd expect to be present if their family member were being resuscitated. Why should we expect any less from our patients and their families? After all, when our loved ones are in jeopardy, we're no different from any other family in crisis.
Bring down the barriers to family presence during resuscitation efforts. Survey the staff about their views and fears, then educate them about the value of giving families this choice. Let's live the traditional Golden Rule and treat others as we want to be treated. Give every family the option of being present in a crisis.
Patricia Kunz Howard, RN, CEN, PhD
President, Emergency Nurses Association
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