October 1, 2018
For immediate release
Chapel Hill: The American hospital industry has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet for creating a very noisy environment for patients and staff members. American hospitals these days are full of beeping machines, alarms, respirators, generators, ventilation systems, and intercoms, which add up to a “a lot of unwanted racket.”
At one time, hospitals were regarded as quiet zones—like libraries. Noisy visitors were often greeted by “a nurse’s purposeful glare or sharply delivered ‘Shhh!’” In 1859, Florence Nightingdale, in her book Notes on Nursing, stated that needless noise was “the most cruel absence of care.”
In 1995, the World Health Organization issued its hospital noise guidelines, recommending that “patient room sound levels not exceed 35 decibels.” However, since 1960, the average daytime hospital levels throughout the world have “have steadily risen to more than double the acceptable level (from 57 to 72 dB), with nighttime levels increasing from 42 to 60 dB.”
Bonnie Sager, an eye doctor in Huntington, New York, stated that “hospital noise levels inside and out need to be addressed. Patients often complain that noise interferes with their rest and increases stress. Monitors, devices, phones, carts, employees, and grounds maintenance crews with gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers all generate noise throughout the day and night. Excessive noise spikes blood pressure, increases cortisol levels, and interferes with wound healing and pain management. Lack of sleep from noise is also related to weight gain, heart disease, stress levels, and inflammation.”
Cullen Ruff, a cardiologist in Arlington, Virginia, noted that “’alarm fatigue’ is very pervasive among patients and nurses. Many ICU nurses are exposed to an astounding 90,000 alarms each week. One nurse told me she has even dreamed about hearing constant alarms.” In addition, Ruff stated that “noise-related sleep deprivation is very damaging to both patients and medical personnel.”
In a recent survey of 1,200 clinicians, 87 percent indicated that alarms for non-actionable, irrelevant issues “occur frequently,” an increase of more than ten percent in five years.
Thankfully, several American hospitals are taking steps to reduce noise, through eliminating overhead paging, de-centralized nursing stations, single rooms for patients, and nightly “quiet times.” Also, some hospitals are creating serene gardens, which greatly improve patient satisfaction.
In addition, hospitals (as well as homeowners, property managers, shopping centers, and recreation facilities) should eliminate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers—which are incredibly noisy (and also emit noxious fumes into the atmosphere).
The director of Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet, Ted Rueter, commented that “American hospitals need to recognize that excessive noise is a silent killer. Hospitals need to develop a culture of peace and quiet, which will promote well-being and healing.”
Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet is a national citizens’ organization devoted to noise reduction. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include Congressman Tim Walhberg, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the North Carolina state legislature.