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.