As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the country, it is vital that we continue to shine a light on the threats faced by nurses and other frontline health care workers. In fact, more than 1,700 health care workers have died from COVID-19, according to a September 2020 report by National Nurses United. With gaps in tracking and recording, that number may be much higher.
Every day, hospital staff around the country are putting their health and safety on the line to care for sick patients – and it’s having a toll. Medical personnel account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases in some states, according to Kaiser Health News. What health care leaders and society as a whole learn in this moment – about how to care for the nurses and frontline workers who care for us – will prove crucial now and in the future.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and frontline staff have had to manage through staffing shortages, a lack of supplies and personal protective equipment, and their own colleagues getting sick and dying. They have supported patients who were isolated from family and friends, oxygen-starved and dying. They have seen the worst of what this disease has wrought.
Fortunately, hospital systems around the country have been taking some steps – however limited – to support nurses and mitigate potential risks. For instance, hospitals are better equipped today with personal protective equipment than when the pandemic began. Hospital administrators have issued new guidance to staff and adjusted infectious disease protocols to better mitigate risks within clinical environments. Some hospitals have provided increased mental health support or shortened shifts to relieve some of the emotional stress.
Hospitals in 48 states have also installed remote safety monitoring technology, which my company designs and manufactures in Michigan. This technology provides a continuous “live feed” from a patient’s room, allowing hospital staff to monitor a potentially infectious – or dangerous – patient while reducing exposure risks or the need to put on personal protective equipment. It also improves communication, provides peace of mind and reduces stress among caregivers, patients and families.
Before this renewed attention on hospital workplace safety, it was often left to nursing associations and other organizations to advocate for change. For instance, the American Nurses Association published a position statement on Workplace Violence in 2015. The Emergency Nurses Association collaborated with the American Organization of Nurse Leaders to publish a toolkit for mitigating workplace violence. And in 2019, a grassroots social media campaign started to take root with #EndNurseAbuse and www.stopEDviolence.org.
In November 2019, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney from Connecticut introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare and Social Service Workers Act (U.S. House Bill 1309). The act directs OSHA to issue a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan to prevent and protect their employees from violent incidents. This was a turning point in workplace safety for nurses.
Despite progress on the issue of workplace safety, many nurses around the country still lack basic 19th century protective equipment as they walk into infectious or hazardous environments. With those threats to personal safety, combined with staffing shortages, it is no wonder we see high burnout in the profession.
There is no cure-all to these challenges, and any solution will require a multipronged approach that addresses recruitment and retention, education, and resource imbalances. But public opinion and good hospital governance demand nurses’ wellbeing should no longer be an afterthought. Nurses should have access to real-time science-based information. In addition, there should be mental health support, adequate PPE and application of proven technology.
We need to recognize it is time to embrace, and yes expect, greater access to tools that will help us provide the best possible care for patients while also keeping us safe and sane. Providing and supporting the well-being of nurses allows them to truly fulfill the reason why they got into the profession—to care for others.
Article BY: Lisbeth Votruba, MSN, RN