Healthcare Workers during COVID-19
Written by Shivani Kumar l Originally published March 31, 2020
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, healthcare workers have been more proactive than ever to treat patients that are positive for the virus and reduce the rapid spread to others. Healthcare professionals have been viewed as heroes for civilians all around the world from their heroic efforts and service, but many are unaware of what exactly a typical healthcare worker is going through in these times.
Currently, healthcare workers are needed more than ever to treat COVID-19 patients that are growing exponentially by the day. The New York governor Andrew Cuomo called retired healthcare professionals, medical students, and non-hospital jobs to help healthcare workers, for a total of 40,000 workers, in the leading state with the pandemic. New York also brought more than 6,000 mental health professionals to provide mental health services to the New Yorkers struggling during this tough time.
Many countries with limited health facilities and staff have needed support to help the thousands of cases that they can’t control well. For example, Cuba transported 52 healthcare workers to help out Italy, the country with the most deaths from the pandemic, and have slightly enhanced their health capacities since.
Although Cuba has been sending healthcare professionals that have experience with dangerous situations around the world to aid for 60 years, their selflessness and courage to help during this deadly pandemic is very evident to the people of Italy.
Despite the heroic efforts of healthcare professionals all around the world, healthcare workers are putting themselves at high risk in healthcare facilities when they are surrounded by coronavirus patients. Doctors and nurses are concerned that they are the spreaders instead of the healers of the virus.
Unfortunately, this has become a reality in Italy. The overloaded hospitals have been hot spots for the spread of the epidemic, so about 10 percent of the infected people in Italy are medical professionals. Likewise, the World Health Organization stated that healthcare workers could accelerate the spread of the virus and undermine the ability for countries’ to combat it.
A similar situation happened in Washington state, the early epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. The virus had grown undetected in some hospitals for weeks according to a physician that was working with a network of hospitals there. Early on, a patient with an unknown type of cough had already infected some of the frontline staff by the time the patient’s COVID-19 came back positive.
People working in healthcare don’t feel safe because of inadequate supplies and personal protective equipment. By having a shortage of this in hospitals, they aren’t protecting themselves enough when they are in direct contact with contagious patients that are everywhere in the hospital.
The workers are forcing themselves to use their supplies and equipment wisely as they are running out. Due to the shortage of masks, a physician assistant in Queens, New York, said that
they would have to make their N95 mask last for five days, which are valuable for their protection in hospitals. The physician is also concerned with the danger of running out of portable oxygen tanks in their hospitals.
Solving the issue for a shortage hasn’t been easy. This problem could last for weeks because, despite the assurance from federal officials that more personal protective equipment (PPE) is on their way, the essential gear could remain inadequate due to the high demand across the country and the necessary massive manufacturing.
In the meantime, healthcare facilities are trying their best to make sure healthcare workers are as safe as possible. For example, hospital systems in Washington state are screening all of their staff members before entering the facility. If they are coughing, running a fever, or feeling ill, they are told to stay home in order to ensure the safety of the patients and the healthcare staff.
Healthcare professionals’ lives have been very hectic since the spread of the coronavirus. One challenge for healthcare staff has been a significant overpopulation within medical facilities. Many nurses and doctors are in cramped conditions in the hospital as stretchers are packed in with no space to walk to patients. Some admitted patients are even sitting in chairs because there are no more free stretchers and extra room available.
A registered ICU nurse in the University of Chicago Medicine stated that as she was working in the COVID unit, “ ‘some nurses did not want to eat or drink for 12 hours because they were scared to take off and put on the same PPE.’ ” Many healthcare workers are getting worried about the rampant increase of patients every day and what could happen as it gets worse in healthcare facilities.
Being in such an intensive environment has taken a toll on many of the healthcare workers’ mental health. A study was conducted in China to examine the mental health of healthcare professionals that were treating patients during COVID-19. From surveying around 1,300 of these workers, 50.4% of respondents had symptoms of depression, 44.6% had symptoms of anxiety, 34.0% had symptoms of insomnia, and 71.5% reported feelings of distress. Frontline workers who were directly involved with the diagnosis, treatment, and care of COVID-19 patients had a higher risk of these symptoms.
Even though this was only measured in China, this encompasses all of what healthcare professionals are going through as they are working through tough times like these.
Individuals in healthcare in the United States have shared their struggles during this time. One nurse at a Long Island Hospital, who works at a COVID- Triage, broke down in the bathroom during her break because one of the recent nights was the worst she has seen. She felt so bad on behalf of her co-workers and said, “ ‘ we are already at our breaking point.’ ”
Another nurse in Queens, New York expressed how frightening it is to see someone who appears stable, and then to desaturate in oxygen levels before her eyes.
The hardest thing for many of these healthcare workers is to know that some patients won’t survive and they don’t get to see their family since visitors aren’t permitted. The last faces they would see are the faces of the healthcare workers, so they try to show extra care and compassion to their patients during this time.
After reading about what healthcare workers have had to go through during this pandemic, you may be wondering ‘What can I do to help healthcare workers?’ There are organizations that are asking for donations for delivering food, drinks, and medical supplies to the healthcare workers, so helping out in that sense would be great.
Showing your gratitude to any healthcare workers you know would also bring a smile to your face. But most importantly, in order to decrease the number of patients that are being admitted to hospitals in the first place, social distancing is crucial.
Many doctors are expressing that staying at home will be the only way to save us and the ability of healthcare workers to save lives. Dr. Craig Spencer, Manhattan doctor tweeted “ Do your part. Stay home. Stay safe. And every day I’ll come to work for you. ” The least we could do to help these real-life heroes is to stay home and follow social distancing.
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