Last Thursday, I put an OOO message up on my HealthyWomen email, entrusted my team to carry on for the day, and reported to my hospital, Hackensack Meridian Health Riverview Medical Center, in scrubs—because in addition to being a CEO and a mom, I'm also a maternal-fetal nurse. I wasn't originally scheduled to work that day, but the hospital needed me. Our hospital staff is stretched thin by COVID-19, as we prepare for the worst, and I wanted to be there for the families who are welcoming newborns into the world in the midst of a pandemic.
Like many nurses I know, I am proud to serve patients and their families during this moment of national crisis. And I have felt the outpouring of support and appreciation for nurses from people around the country. As CEO of HealthyWomen, I also see the big picture: how nurses and nurse practitioners fill the gaps in our health-care system to meet the needs of health-care consumers across the country.
I'm not the only one who knows that nurses matter. I recently wrote about how Gallup ranked nurses as America's most trusted profession for the 18th straight year. I also called on us to listen to nurses, look to them for solutions, and ask what we can do to support them. This call is more important now than ever.
The Nurses Are Speaking. We Need to Listen.
As they fight coronavirus, nurses and doctors know they have the nation's attention, and they are using that attention to mobilize Americans. For example, one group of health-care providers took to social media to implore others to observe social-distancing guidelines in place across the country.
In this picture, their signs read: "We stay here for you. Please stay home for us
In this viral video, two health-care workers wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE)—which includes a hair cover, face shield, mask and gown—are holding up messages that read:
We also have family but can't stay home.
We are not on vacation.
Be responsible. STAY HOME. Because I can't.
Wash your hands! We are exposed to everything for you!
Help us! Take care of me I'll take care of you!
Health-care workers know they are at risk when they show up at work. I admit when I walked through the doors of my hospital last week, I worried about exposing myself to the virus, or worse, exposing my own family when I returned home. I also know I'm among the lucky: As a maternal-fetal nurse, my own risk of exposure is lower than the risks faced by my colleagues who work in the emergency room or intensive-care units.
Yet this is what it means to be a nurse: We show up. Countless other health-care workers are making tremendous sacrifices as parents and partners, practicing social distancing with their own families. These nurses have lessons to offer the rest of us.
Emergency-room nurse and blogger, One Vaxxed Nurse, is preparing for the day she feels the risk of infection is so high that she must distance herself from her family. She imagined the last night she'll be able to kiss her husband and children:
"I'll get to talk to my husband and kids from a safe distance, but I won't get to touch anyone I love. I'm not a hugger, but I anticipate that the next few weeks are likely to bring days where I could really use a hug. I won't be able to have one. It's the only way I can protect them.”
After a grueling day at the hospital, she won't be able to rest right away. She'll first need to go through painstaking efforts to disinfect her clothes and herself. And then she'll sleep in a room no one else is allowed to enter. Her ask? Don't complain about being home; enjoy the hugs.
These pleas aren't all though. Nurses are organizing through their professional associations to advocate for government action.
The American Nurses Association, for example, submitted a letter, jointly authored with the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association, that urges President Dondal Trump to use federal government powers to increase production of PPE and other medical equipment such as ventilators. The ANA is also organizing its members to contact their Members of Congress to advocate for increased PPE production. On social media, individual nurses are demanding proper PPE, using the hashtags #ProtectNurses and #GetMePPE.
Nurses should not be wearing cloth masks. Evidence shows they are ineffective when dealing with #COVID19 patients. ANA continues to press for appropriate PPE including N95 respirators and if those are not available, medical/surgical masks. #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/kxCwnmGBzX— Nurses Association (@ANANursingWorld) March 24, 2020
As nurses, we want to do our job, but without the right equipment and processes in place, we are scared. As frontline caregivers, we know how disastrous it would be if significant numbers of us fell ill with COVID-19, as is happening right now to our colleagues in Europe.
For nurses to provide the compassionate care patients need, we need every effort in place to fight this virus. This only happens if everyone helps to "flatten the curve” by practicing social distancing and staying at home. And when we are at work, we need proper PPE so we don't fall sick, too.
We've always trusted nurses when it comes to our personal health care. Now, will you listen to our pleas? We want to be there for you when you need us most.
How to Take Action & Support Nurses:
Write to your representatives urging them to take action
Write to your local hospital
Stay Home & Flatten the Curve