By Mylika Scatliffe,
AFRO Health Writer
In 2020 the World Health Organization declared the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. The goal was to recognize the significant contributions of nurses to health care, the risks associated with nursing shortages and the challenges inherent to the profession.
The goals turned out to be most prophetic.
Research has shown nurses were severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, even more than their physician counterparts.
Nurses are the care team members who spend the most time on the front lines with patients. During the pandemic they have worked brutal hours. Nurses have dealt with limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and constantly evolving guidelines of patient care.
A collaboration between Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and Cross Country Healthcare, a leading provider of advisory and workforce solutions for healthcare providers, led to a national survey of nurses and nursing students. The survey was conducted between May and June 2021 and included 570 responses. The results revealed the Covid-19 pandemic has introduced negative perceptions of the future for nursing careers.
Nearly 37 percent of nurses surveyed identified feelings of burnout, or being excessively stressed and/or overworked.
It was also revealed that only 32 percent of nurses are very or completely satisfied with their occupation compared to 52 percent prior to the pandemic. They point to the nursing shortage and inadequate staffing as the top reasons for their low satisfaction.
Roughly 66 percent of nurses expressed varying levels of consideration to give up the profession, foreshadowing potential long-term impact on the post-pandemic health system.
Tainisha Blackmon, 48, has been a registered nurse (RN) for 21 years. She’s currently a charge nurse at El Camino Health Care in Los Gatos, Calif.
Her facility is in a small residential area with mostly elderly residents, who were reluctant to visit doctors and hospitals for fear of catching COVID. Now, they’re all coming back in worse condition.
At the height of the pandemic, Blackmon’s hospital sent patients who tested positive to their larger campus in Mountain View, Calif. if they required hospitalization. This somewhat lessened her exposure but still increased her workload with the influx of patients once the pandemic numbers waned.
Chloe Winters spoke with the AFRO using a pseudonym to prevent retaliation at her place of employment. The 29-year-old is an RN in the emergency department of a large urban hospital on the East Coast.
She recalls patients waiting several days in the emergency room for an available bed to be admitted. The shortage affected patients suffering from other illnesses, in addition to Covid-19. COVID patients filled the hospitals and there were times a bed couldn’t be found in the entire state. Some patients, if they consented, were admitted to hospitals in neighboring states.
“Since COVID, there have been times I wanted to quit nursing, it depends on the day,” said Winters. While the amount of work in an emergency department serving a largely uninsured and underinsured population has been grueling, Winters has seen her abilities rapidly increase.
“We’re able to put in our own orders as far as labs and imaging, with a doctor just a few feet away or dealing with another patient,” she said. “Since COVID, I’ve become okay with the increased autonomy. It’s made me a much more independent nurse.”
“If there are multiple emergencies going at the same time, I’m comfortable stabilizing my patient until a doctor gets there. In an emergency room, there’s no telling a patient ‘You can’t come here.’ We do what needs to be done for the patient in front of us,” Winters continued.
Even worker’s compensation nurses are feeling the continuing effects of COVID.
Lara Payson, another nurse who spoke with the AFRO using the alias, is an RN and a field case manager for a worker’s compensation third party administrator. She has been in the field of nursing for 29 years. She wasn’t on the front lines but has seen an influx of worker’s compensation claims from nurses and nurse’s aides, particularly in nursing homes and hospitals.
“COVID ran rampant in nursing homes and the nurses and aides serving those populations were particularly vulnerable as they were low on the totem pole in terms of receiving PPE and vaccinations,” said Payson. Furthermore, she saw some resistance from employers when it came to covering their employees claims once they caught COVID, tracking employees’ activities for any sign they contracted COVID anywhere besides work.
“I’ve learned to try and convince claims examiners they’ll save money in the long run by paying for evaluation and treatments for their employees,” Payson said.
All these nurses agree they’ve had to overcome the fears of the unknown with the virus and fears of making loved ones sick and put them aside to care for their patients. They also all agree that healthcare would certainly collapse without nurses.
“Nurses are the heart and soul of healthcare. Without nurses there would be a huge void to the point where no healing would occur. Nurses provide probably 80 percent, if not more, of the care patients receive in the hospital and clinic settings,” said Blackmon. “We develop relationships, we’re like counselors, therapists and advocates and we’re everywhere- not just in hospitals. We’re the foundation of healthcare and the glue that holds it together.”
Some names have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy and employment.
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