Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) represents the interests of more than 103,000 nurses across Washington state. Our members have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. As we work to manage a public health crisis unlike any of us has ever seen, it is our duty to share the key lessons we are learning on the ground.
COVID-19 cases are expected to increase rapidly in the United States. In King County, Washington, we’ve been at the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Because of this, our public health departments, hospitals, and elected officials are building the model for how large urban areas will respond to COVID-19.
The following are recommendations and considerations that we urge other municipalities and states to take now to prepare and protect themselves for COVID-19.
Public opinion research consistently shows that nurses are America’s most trusted profession. Today, millions of people are uncertain what information they can trust. Unions and associations representing nurses can help deliver critical public health information to both our members and the general public. We also serve as an important conduit for information both to and from public officials, healthcare facilities and other institutions engaged in the response. Here are basic steps we recommend to organizations that represent nurses and other healthcare workers.
Coordinate communication efforts with public officials. You can reach your members more reliably and with more authority than public officials. Coordinate directly with your local public health officials and local elected officials and provide them with a list of all the facilities where you represent nurses and/or other health care providers. This will allow them to efficiently communicate with the appropriate organizations as cases move into a metro area or region.
Advocate for basic infrastructure. Ask your state and/or local public health agency to establish a dedicated hotline for COVID-19 questions from health care providers.
Engage officials proactively. Don’t wait for government agencies. Proactively understand the steps your state and/or local public health agencies and elected officials will take to respond to an outbreak.
Engage health care facilities early. Work with employers to ensure provision of appropriate PPE to all health care workers following CDC COVID-19 guidelines including triage protocols around scarce resources.
Negotiation for safe standards. Work with employers to ensure provision of appropriate PPE to all health care workers following CDC COVID-19 guidelines including triage protocols around scarce resources. Work with your represented facilities to ensure a basic structure is in place for nurses when employer’s implement their surge capacity plans and move to a crisis standard of care – this may mean an MOU or other agreement for represented employees covering items such as:
Plan to activate workers to act as a communications pipeline within facilities that may restrict access to non-staff at some point.
Ensure continuity and clarity for your staff. During this time, the staff of your organization will need clarity on processes and procedures. As organizations responsibly implement telework to support social distancing measures, it is critical for your staff to understand clear expectations both during telework and once offices reopen.
As a nurse, you have a right to protect yourself, your patients and your community. Here are basic steps we recommend for every nurse.
Washington state may have the most advanced and serious outbreak in the United States, but the likelihood of significant outbreaks is possible in every community. It is not too late to avert adverse case scenarios, but we must act quickly and follow public health orders, we must act with resolve, and we must act together.