COVID-19: Voices from the front lines — Julia Barcott

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

Wa nurse barcott julia

Julia Barcott, RN
Toppenish, Wash.

At the end of February, as reports of the first U.S. COVID-19 cases at Life Care Center in Kirkland began to spread across media outlets across the country, Julia Barcott and her fellow nurses in Yakima County knew it was just a matter of time until the coron­avirus reached their front doors.

I don’t normally see fear in nurses,” Julia recalls. But there seemed be a sense of dread among us about what was coming and the lack of infor­ma­tion we had at the time.”

Unfor­tu­nately, their fears soon became reality. In the begin­ning of May, Yakima County had the highest COVID-19 infec­tion rate of any county on the U.S. West Coast — a sobering statistic that was primarily the result of a signif­i­cant number of cases in several long-term care facil­i­ties, and due to the large number of food produc­tion and agricul­tural workers deemed essen­tial in the county.

As a per diem regis­tered nurse at Astria Toppenish Hospital, Julia was on the front lines of the crisis deliv­ering direct care to the most critical patients — many of them Latino and members of Indige­nous popula­tions. Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Preven­tion (CDC) have shown that members of under­rep­re­sented racial/​ethnic groups are dispro­por­tion­ally affected by COVID-19 in hotspot counties, including being more likely to become infected with COVID-19, experi­ence more severe symptoms, require hospi­tal­iza­tion and have a higher risk of death from the virus.

Julia attrib­utes the surge in cases in Yakima County to lack of access to preven­ta­tive care, high poverty rates, and differ­ences in cultural and familial norms among people of color. She also says that many workers in the area, like those who work outside in orchards, became infected because they were not provided adequate personal protec­tive equip­ment (PPE) by their employer.

We’ve treated people of all races for COVID-19,” Julia says. But I’ve seen entire Latino families — large families who live in close proximity to each other — all become infected in a short amount of time. It’s really sad to see.”

Thank­fully, after Washington’s statewide mask mandate went into effect in June, Yakima County saw a signif­i­cant decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospi­tal­iza­tions — easing the strain on local health care systems and improving the safety of nurses and the commu­nity. It was then that Julia made the decision to step back from providing direct care to COVID-19 patients and work in other areas of the hospital, so she could care for her 89-year-old father, Edward, who was recov­ering from surgery.

With all of the visitor restric­tions in place at rehabil­i­ta­tion facil­i­ties at the time, we made a decision as a family to take care of Dad on our own,” she says. We’re all very close, and we didn’t want him to become isolated and lonely without us around him cheering him on.”

In addition to fighting for the lives of her patients, Julia has been fighting for nurses’ rights as chair of WSNA’s Cabinet on Economic and General Welfare — fielding calls from other members on the front lines about PPE short­ages in their facil­i­ties, assisting in creating interim local unit contracts and researching how WSNA can better advocate for nurses, patients and other health care workers throughout the pandemic.

"It’s an ongoing battle, and we’re fatigued, but we have to move forward and say, ‘We don’t want this to happen again, and these are the things that need to occur to prevent that.’"
— Julia Barcott, RN

Nurses have a standard of care and are trying really hard to do what we think is neces­sary for our patients to survive, but how can we do that without all of the equip­ment and infor­ma­tion we need?” she asks. It’s an ongoing battle, and we’re all fatigued, but we have to move forward and say, We don’t want this to happen again, and these are the things that need to occur to prevent that.’”

Despite the many challenges and issues that COVID-19 has laid bare, Julia says the collec­tive strength of nurses can help change the course of the pandemic in Washington state.

We’ve saved lives; it’s what we do and what we have always done,” she says. 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.”

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