New York, NY – Nurses across the country continue to grapple with ongoing physical, mental, and emotional anguish as they try to shoulder the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis — often becoming surrogate family members to an unprecedented amount of dying patients.
As the national death toll surpasses a quarter of a million fatalities, nurses are still calling out their superiors for continued mismanagement. Nurses also continue to agitate for the implementation of emergency OSHA standards, the HEROES Act and the Defense of Production Act to get vital medical equipment.
Nurses from different backgrounds and various specialties held a video press conference on Monday, Nov. 24 to spotlight the terrible conditions they face daily. Hospital beds and personal protective equipment (PPE) to treat COVID-19 patients are in short supply, according to National Nurses United [NNU] President Jean Ross.
“Nurses deal with life and death situations every day, every shift — it is routine,” said Ross. “What we cannot deal with is the extreme moral distress we feel when we know exactly what we need to do and the resources required to care for our patient — but we are not supported. We are blocked, or we are even attacked by our employers or even our government when they fail to provide safe workplaces and infection control.”
According to Ross, the deaths of approximately 2,150 health care workers, including 253 registered nurses is not normal, and it will be too late to wait for a vaccine or the Biden/Harris administration to correct course.
NNU Vice President Marissa Lee, a labor and delivery nurse, believes the politicization of COVID-19 across the country has led to some states taking an anti-COVID-19 protocol stance, and that, unfortunately, has extended into the hospitals.
“Florida is a hot mess. My hospital is a hot mess,” said Lee. “Florida is wide open with no restrictions of any kind. We already had COVID-19 patients, and those numbers are exponentially increasing.”
Christina Hanson, a registered nurse from Marquette, Michigan, a member of the Michigan Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United, has seen an increase in patients, too.
“What started as a sprint is now a marathon, and we are emotionally and mentally exhausted,” said Hanson. “Our area was relatively unaffected in the beginning, but we have recently been dubbed a hotspot. What used to be one COVID-shift a month has turned into COVID shifts every day.”
Hanson is worried about the future of nursing because of the new stress level involved, the fear of spreading the disease to family members and the death of fellow nurses.
“COVID-19 is not the flu,” said Hanson. “Across the nation, hospitals have reached or are reaching capacity.”
Lee said she is not getting proper PPE at her Kissimmee hospital, and that other nurses only get a regular surgical mask if they have a confirmed case. According to the delivery nurse, patients are not tested for COVID-19 when they come to the hospital, so there is the potential of sickening other non-infected patients. There is also no contact tracing of nurses. Nurses who get the virus but are asymptomatic still have to work. They are also often the only ones to inform their colleagues that they are sick — not management. Elective surgeries are also still going on at the hospital, Lee said.
“The nonchalant attitude of these corporations saying that we have equipment [is deadly],” Lee added. “We are showing up to work. We are not calling in sick. We want to take care of our patients, and people are saying, ‘Well, you are a labor and delivery nurse.’ Pregnant women don’t get COVID? One time I said, ‘What is the immunity — pregnancy?’ Bring the equipment out.”
Juan Anchando is a medical-surgical nurse who works in the transplant unit at a hospital in El Paso, Texas where he’s been trying to sound the alarm about bad practices. Anchando said he is also dealing with bosses trying to deny that he is also working with COVID-patients.
“They have access to my charting,” said Anchando. “I’ve been charting on these COVID-patients since the pandemic started, since I’ve been floated to these COVID-floors. They are the ones that put me down there. It’s a bunch of malarkey.”
When Anchando is not floating to COVID-floors, his superiors expect him to take care of kidney-transplant patients. He has further ruffled feathers challenging HCA Healthcare’s proposed layoffs, while also fighting to get airborne protections for patients.
Consuelo Vargas, an emergency room nurse from Chicago, Illinois, is disappointed that her hospital hasn’t come up with a more robust COVID-19 plan for the winter season ahead. She fears understaffing will result in more death.
“At my facility, I’ve been asking for an inventory for PPE and I’ve not gotten it,” she said. “I’m told the N-95 [masks] that we had before is not available. We do not have enough staffing. We are holding ICU patients in our emergency department for up to three days. This leads to an increase in patient falls. This leads to bedsores. This lead leads to delays in patient care.”
Vargas tried to hold back tears, “I don’t know how much longer we are going to be able to do this,” she added. “We want the Defense of Protection Act to increase PPE. We don’t know when a vaccine is coming out, and we don’t know how long it will take to give to everybody.”
NNU Executive Director Bonnie Costillo is also calling for passage of the HEROES Act and more substantial OSHA standards.
“We call on our employers and our government to follow science,” Costillo said. “All year, we have demanded that President Trump utilize the Defense Production Act to mass-produce and distribute PPE at the volumes required. That OSHA promulgate an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases to mandate temporary emergency optimal protections. We have called on Congress to pass the HEROES Act, which includes critical protections for the public and for nurses…We are relieved that as of January 20th that the Biden Administration will step forward, but patients and nurses can’t wait.”