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UIHC mandates new, uniform scrubs for nurses

New attire deadline extended after concerns surface

Nurse Jordan Kraus gets medication from an AcuDose machine for a patient at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)
Nurse Jordan Kraus gets medication from an AcuDose machine for a patient at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)

In the coming months, patients and guests at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will see a more uniform and “professional” appearance among the facility's thousands of nurses.

Instead of the rainbow of scrubs health care providers currently don — depending on their unit and, in some cases, their style — all nurses in the UIHC's inpatient units and outpatient clinics soon will be wearing matching scrubs with gray tops and black pants.

The new “professional appearance standard” is based on patient and visitor demand for an easier way to identify health care providers, said hospitals spokesman Tom Moore.

“What happened was you had an inpatient unit where various nurses would wear differing kinds of scrubs,” Moore said. “This is more uniform, so that visitors and staff know right away, in a clear way, who they are dealing with.”

Nurses were told earlier this month that they had to buy and begin wearing their new scrubs by Jan. 1 — a less than two-month turnaround that concerned some nurses who already were financially stressed with the holidays approaching.

“Many people have complained that we were only given one paycheck to revamp our entire work wardrobe and that it came at the holidays and with no advance notice,” said Wendy Netolick, a UIHC registered nurse. “I do not understand the rush.”

Hospital officials told The Gazette on Tuesday that the deadline for the new attire is going to be pushed back, and an announcement to the staff is coming shortly. But Netolick said many nurses already have spent the money in anticipation of the New Year's Day rollout.

“We are buying them,” she said, adding that if there is a change in the deadline, “they need to make it known. Otherwise, people will continue to buy them.”

Netolick, who said she has six children, five grandchildren, and two on the way, voiced her concerns with the new standards after learning about them from her supervisor Nov. 14.

“It's actually not a realistic expectation that people can go out and do that at this time of year,” Netolick said. “It shows they don't have a clue what people in the average world with average incomes face.”

Although most nurses must comply with the new gray-black scrub standards, there are some exceptions — such as nurses in the emergency room and various departments' operating rooms that already have scrub standards.

Nurses under the gray-black dress code must purchase and launder their scrubs, which many already do, Moore said. And although they have to buy specific colors, there are a wide variety of styles — including V-neck or round-neck tops, pullup or drawstring pants, and lab coats.

The cost of an outfit varies depending on shirt or pant style and size, but Moore said the average price is $26 a pair, including vendor discounts.

In general, he said, nurses buy five tops and three pairs of pants, enough to last one to two years.

The hospital's new scrub standard is the culmination of an extensive process that involved benchmarking and gathering of input from about 1,300 nurses. They were asked to vote on preferred scrub colors, and gray “was the clear favorite among the inpatient and outpatient direct care nurses,” according to a Nov. 7 email sent from Chief Nursing Officer Kenneth Rempher to the Nursing Management Council.

That email also included information on the original rollout plan.

“Although the official start date for the new color will be January 1, 2015, nurses may begin wearing their new scrub attire at any time between now and then,” Rempher wrote.

According to the email, a second phase of scrub color selections for nursing assistants will begin soon, followed by color selection for medical assistants.

“This is an important step in creating a more professional appearance and helping our patients and families identify the members of their care team,” Rempher wrote.

Cathy Glasson, president of the Service Employees International Union, Local 199, which represents about 3,000 UIHC health care professionals, said she heard from several nurses about the new scrubs — including those concerned with the deadline — and the union reached out to the hospital on their behalf.

It's unclear how far out the deadline for having new scrubs will be extended, but Netolick said she thinks any time from March to July is “more realistic.”

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