Adrenaline surged through Chicago nurse Cynthia Riemer as paramedics rushed a critical COVID-19 patient into the emergency room, reported Carla K. Johnson and Juliet Linderman of PBS, an American public broadcaster and television program distributor. According to the nurse, “Your heart starts racing.” Riemer’s protective gear consisted of a yellow gown supplied by the hospital, foot covers, an N95 mask, and a welder’s mask from Home Depot to conserve what they have.
Riemer and her colleagues chose to work as nurses to save lives and to relieve people of suffering. Considering supply shortages and the ever-changing science surrounding the virus, some of the nurses are questioning themselves: “Did I sign up to be a hero?”
Surveys On the Current Status of Nurses In the US
US-based organization National Nurses United (NNU) conducted a survey involving registered nurses, the US’s frontline health care staff, via the organization’s official website. According to the survey, 44% reported that their employer has provided them with information about COVID-19 and how to recognize and respond to possible cases. 29% said a plan has been in place to isolate a patient who is suspected to be infected with COVID-19 while 23% admitted that they don’t know if there is a plan.
63% of registered nurses said they have access to N95 respirators on their units while 27% reported that they have access to PAPRs. 30% said their employer has sufficient PPE stock on hand to protect staff if there is a rapid surge of patients who are possibly infected with COVID-19. Sadly, 38% said they don’t know.
65% had been trained on safely donning and doffing PPE last year. 66% of nurses had been fit tested last year compared to those who had not been fit tested a year prior (33%). 14% of nurses stated that their employer would place additional, trained staff to enable safe care provision to patients on isolation for possible COVID-19 infection. 43% said they don’t know. 19% said their employer has a policy to address employees with suspected or known exposure to COVID-19, while 43% said they don’t know.
Nursing community app Holliblu surveyed over 1,200 from 600 hospitals in the US from March 29 to April 6 and found that 14.9% of nurses aged between 26-35 years were considering leaving the industry (versus 18.2% of nurses aged 36-45), reported Josh Boswell and Ryan Parry of Daily Mail, a UK-based newspaper.
52.1% of nurses aged 26-35 were considering leaving the facility they are working at compared to those aged 36-45 (46.4%) and 45 to 55 (51%). 3% of nurses had already resigned. Across all ages, 61.5% admitted that they are likely to either leave the industry or the hospital they are working at.
Paul Jaglowski, the CEO of Feedtrail, informed DailyMailTV said that the survey results confirmed his fears about a crumbling nursing workforce. He stated, “We already knew that there was an increasing trend of turnover for nurses. This COVID pandemic proved to significantly accelerate this rate of turnover, adding fuel to the fire.”
Overworking Jeopardizes Nurses’ Mental Health
Giorgio Cometto, coordinator of the Human Resources for Health Policies and Standards at WHO’s Health Workforce Department, said they have seen unprecedented levels of overwork, particularly nurses who are working in ICUs, in management, or those who are involved in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, stated UN News, the UN’s news platform. These nurses are often not given adequate time for rest and recuperation, including support and assistance. This means there are limited considerations for their mental health.
Howard Catton, head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and co-chair of a report about nursing and midwifery across 191 countries asserted, “We believe that the lack of PPE and the problems of supply is undoubtedly linked to the high infection rates and some of the deaths we have seen as well.”
Career Versus Safety
A nurse in Baltimore, who is also a father with young children, said he considered thinking about leaving his job after a scientific report about the virus. In the report, it stated that COVID-19 might spread in tinier aerosolized particles and not only in droplets. He is also worried about the shortages of masks and poor crisis planning.
“Nobody wants to go to work and feel like they’re gambling,” he said. In fact, very few of them decide to work in the nursing industry to be heroes. 38-year-old Amber Weber, a labor and delivery nurse at Lutheran Medical Center, noted that an eight-hour shift allowed her to refresh her knowledge of central lines and feeding tubes, which she hasn’t used since graduating from nursing school more than a decade ago.
Weber said that more than one family member has told her to quit her job because it’s not worth it. Despite that, her professional values reigned supreme. She asserted, “I didn’t go into the nursing profession to abandon my patients when their need is greatest.” Further, Weber did not work as a nurse to abandon her fellow health care workers in the hospital.
Cynda Rushton, a professor of nursing and bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, noted that nurses, who are reflecting how much they are willing to sacrifice, are barraged with new questions each day. Rushton posed, “Who am I? What do I stand for? How can I have integrity in the midst of this chaos?” How do I live with myself at the end of the day?”
But Nurses Are Not Giving Up yet
COVID-19 tests are essential for health care providers to help them feel assured that they are not infected, enabling them to return to work, argued Baroness Mary Watkins, Alternate-Chair of Nursing Now and co-chair of the report.
At home, Riemer— who works at the University of Illinois Hospital— and her husband are keeping six feet apart for his safety. For the nurse, giving up just because things are getting tough is not an option. She noted, “We get angry, we get frustrated. But the majority of us are not willing to give up.”
Even if nurses and health care workers are struggling to contain the virus, these professionals have received positive recognition for their efforts, Catton acknowledged. For example, there is the nightly handclapping in many countries to show the spirit of solidarity, suggesting the possible changes in attitude towards nurses, Catton added.
Nurses are part of the solution to curbing the virus. They deserve to receive hazard pay, proper equipment, mental health counseling, and other benefits to help them save more lives. Nursing may be a risky profession, but those who remain in this field choose not to give up.