Surge

The Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion shares the concerns voiced by public officials about the winter surge of COVID-19 cases and hospi­tal­iza­tions and what this could mean for our health care system. 

If we are to success­fully confront this new surge and maintain staffing, it is critical that nurses and other health care workers are equipped and supported to continue providing care. We cannot go back to the early days of the pandemic, when nurses were working without adequate personal protec­tive equip­ment, were too often in the dark about exposure to COVID-19 patients and were not able to access timely COVID-19 tests and rapid notifi­ca­tion of the results.

Nurses and other health care workers have been on the front­lines of the pandemic for more than 8 months now, and they are exhausted. Hospital prepared­ness is about more than having enough beds and venti­la­tors — it’s about having enough staff to take care of the patients. It is critical that hospi­tals listen to nurses and other health care workers about what they need to continue taking care of patients safely.

WSNA is already hearing concerns from some of our nurses that hospi­tals aren’t making proper personal protec­tive equip­ment avail­able, and that they are falling short on timely testing for COVID-19 and rapid reporting of results.

Many nurses are also feeling finan­cial strain after of working through the pandemic. Many of our nurses have depleted their paid time off to cover furloughs, the closure of elective surgeries early this year and for illness, including from contracting COVID-19 themselves. The Washington State Nurses Founda­tion has received so many requests for finan­cial help from our Nurses Emergency Assis­tance Grant Fund that we had to shut down appli­ca­tions within hours of announcing it. Support for nurses must include paid admin­is­tra­tive leave when they have to be in quaran­tine with the presump­tion that nurses testing positive acquired COVID-19 through work as a front­line caregiver — not out in the commu­nity, as some hospi­tals continue to argue.

We have already seen serious COVID-19 outbreaks among patients and staff at St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton and St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. Hospi­tals and public health officials must learn from these outbreaks and improve their response to include timely testing, rapid notifi­ca­tion of test results and COVID-19 exposures, the safest level of personal protec­tive equip­ment and paid leave for the affected nurses.

It is critical that we support nurses and other health care workers so that they are able to care of patients through this surge. We are still only at the begin­ning of the antic­i­pated winter surge; hospi­tals must address staff needs now.

Nurses will continue to step up and take care of patients through this pandemic; state health officials and hospi­tals need to step up and make sure nurses have what they need to stay safe and healthy.