COVID-19: Voices from the front lines

In October, as a winter surge of COVID-19 cases loomed ahead, we spoke to five nurses about their experi­ences on the front lines over the past year. Here are their stories.

This story was published in the Winter 2021 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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Health care workers in the acute care COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle walk down a hallway in their COVID socks on May 7, 2020. Staff began tucking the pant legs of their hospital scrubs in socks as a way to prevent infection from spreading during home assessment team visits, but it became a comedic coping strategy."
Credit: Getty Images / Karen Ducey

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the magnitude of this crisis has not lessened. The pandemic has stretched far beyond what we wanted or thought it would be. But nurses are strong; we won’t stop until we’ve reached the finish line.

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Jane McNulty, a nurse at University of Washington Medical Center – Montlake, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Dr. Shahina Banthanavasi on Dec. 15, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. Thirteen health care workers from the University of Washington Medicine system were the first in the area to receive the vaccine.
Credit: Getty Images

Because of the input we’ve received from you on the front lines, WSNA has pushed employers to better protect nurses — and has held them accountable when employers have fallen short. We’ve amplified your voices in the media, and with public officials and elected leaders. In partnership with our national union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), we’ve distributed masks and face shields to frontline workers, their families and community members throughout Washington state.

A vaccine is here, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. Your work, and ours, is not done. As each of you continues to fight COVID-19, we will keep fighting for you. And just like you, we won’t stop until we reach the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

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Over the past 10 months, nurses have gone above and beyond to care for patients across Washington state. You have donned layers upon layers of PPE to keep yourselves, and your patients, safe. You have volunteered at testing sites and engaged in public health efforts to help limit community spread.

You’ve worked overtime, and you’ve also been furloughed. You have saved lives but have also been at the bedside of COVID-19 patients in their final hours. You, or your loved ones, have become infected.

Each of you has an important story to tell; one that is unique to you but shared among your fellow nurses. In October, as a winter surge of COVID-19 cases loomed ahead, we spoke to five nurses about their experiences on the front lines over the past year. Here are their stories.

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Julia Barcott, RN

"We’ve saved lives; it’s what we do and what we have always done,” says Julia Barcott, a per diem registered nurse at Astria Toppenish Hospital in Yakima County. “Once we get through this crisis, we’re going to need to take a deep breath, care for ourselves, and then rise up to get all of the broken things fixed for the next time. Because we’re the ones who can do it."

Read her story.

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Hardish Khinda, RN

“I will be the first one dancing when this is all over,” says Hardish Khinda, staff development coordinator and infection control manager at Spokane Veterans Home. “But, in the meantime, wash your hands, wear your PPE and watch out for each other. Let’s work together to see this through to the end.”

Read her story.

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Hazzauna Underwood, RN

If it’s hot, get in the kitchen,” says Hazzauna Underwood, a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurse at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue and an emergency rapid-response nurse at Swedish Edmonds. “Let’s do what we need to do to create a safer and better nation — where we can be better caregivers, coworkers, family members, friends, and ultimately, better to ourselves. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.”

Read her story.

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Tessa McIlraith, MS, BSN, RN

“Because we don’t work in the medical field and are often the only staff member in our school with a medical background, the most valuable thing school nurses have is our connection with each other,” says Tessa McIlraith, lead district nurse for the Burlington-Edison School District. “We’re laying down the track as we’re chugging along, and it’s been my saving grace to know that I have their support.”

Read her story.

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Justin Gill, DNP, ARNP, RN

“Every single health care worker, from the housekeeper to the hospital administrator, has an ability to actually influence the pandemic overall,” says Justin Gill, a nurse practitioner in Providence Health & Services’ urgent care and walk-in clinics in Everett and Monroe. “We are all part of the system, and everyone plays an important role in keeping our patients and communities safe.”

Read his story.

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Advocating for nurses

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, WSNA remains committed to fighting for your rights. By lifting your voices to public officials, we’ve been able to help enact policies and actions that directly impact your health and safety on the front lines. Learn more...

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Betsy Nordi, RN (left) and Cindy Van Hook, MSHCA, BSB, RN (right)

COVID-19 and long-term care: Nurse perspectives

COVID-19 hit long-term care facil­i­ties early and hard in Washington state. The WSNA Commu­nity and Long-Term Care Task Force recently checked in with two long-term care nurses to find out what they have learned throughout the pandemic and how they are taking care of themselves as it continues. Learn more...