COVID-19: Voices from the front lines — Justin Gill

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

Wa nurse gill justin

Justin Gill, DNP, ARNP, RN
Everett, Wash., and Monroe, Wash.

In the weeks that immedi­ately followed the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington state, Justin Gill was doing the best he could to stay afloat. As a nurse practi­tioner in Provi­dence Health & Services’ urgent care and walk-in clinics in Everett and Monroe, Justin was called on to provide what little infor­ma­tion was known about the virus to an influx of concerned patients. At the time, not much was known about the varied symptoms presented by COVID-positive patients, and the CDC and the Occupa­tional Safety and Health Admin­is­tra­tion (OSHA) had different recom­men­da­tions on how to best protect health care workers.

It was a lot, and was all of a sudden,” Justin remem­bers. People came in looking for tests and accurate infor­ma­tion about the virus, and we couldn’t give them either. We were all frustrated, and I quickly became overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.”

As the pandemic began to bore down across the U.S. and Ameri­cans shuttered themselves in their homes, total urgent care center volumes were down 50% nation­wide — a statistic health officials largely attribute to the public’s fear of contracting COVID-19 inside health care facil­i­ties. Justin says his outpa­tient facil­i­ties saw a similar dip in patients, but eventu­ally ticked back up to greater summer and fall patient volumes than in recent years. He attrib­utes this rise to the additional need to test patients with cold or other virus-causing symptoms for COVID-19. Today, urgent care patients are separated in two suites, respi­ra­tory and non-respi­ra­tory, and Justin works in both areas, depending on the day.

Although he’s not providing critical care for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms in a hospital ICU, Justin says he and his fellow ambula­tory care nurses still feel a powerful sense of respon­si­bility in keeping Washing­to­nians safe and healthy.

Every single health care worker, from the house­keeper to the hospital admin­is­trator, has an ability to actually influ­ence the pandemic overall,” he says. We are all part of the system, and everyone plays an impor­tant role in keeping our patients and commu­ni­ties safe.”

Justin says that despite all the challenges of COVID-19, the pandemic has reinforced his passion for policy and advocacy. As a part-time lecturer of health policy at the Univer­sity of Washington Bothell School of Nursing and Health Studies, he hopes to ignite the same passion in his students to become advocates for nurses everywhere.

I tell my students that what we are dealing with now is a perfect example of how public policy directly impacts their clinical practice, like whether they have PPE, testing resources and educa­tion materials,” he says. If individ­uals in places of power don’t have a nurse’s aware­ness of what’s actually happening on the front lines, then you will have policies that don’t meet the needs of patient care.”

As chair of the Legisla­tive and Health Policy Council, Justin helps set WSNA’s annual health policy and legisla­tive agenda and plays an active role in reviewing and advancing our legisla­tive prior­i­ties. When COVID-19 first arrived in Washington state, the 2020 Regular Session was just ending; after it adjourned in March, WSNA continued to work closely with the governor’s office to enact policies that will keep nurses and patients safe throughout the pandemic.

“We are all part of the system, and everyone plays an important role in keeping our patients and communities safe.”
— Justin Gill, DNP, ARNP, RN

COVID-19 has highlighted what nurses have known is wrong with our health care system for a long time,” he says. But it’s also provided an oppor­tu­nity for nurses to push forward prior­i­ties, both legisla­tively and in their own facil­i­ties, to enact change.”

In July, The Bellingham Herald published an op-ed written by Justin about the deficien­cies in the nation’s overall response to the virus. In the article, he writes: As we push through these tough times and emerge from the crisis, we must recog­nize the struc­tural and societal problems that have impacted our national response. If we embrace our common humanity and strength as a collec­tive unit, we can get through this.”

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