Time Magazine recently named COVID-19 vaccine scientists Heroes Of The Year, signaling the end to a second most difficult year ever facing the modern medical community.
Time extended their usual “Person of the year” honor to include four scientists, Kizzmekia Corbett, Barney Graham, Katalin Kariko, and Drew Weissman to represent vaccine researchers, on their December cover. The scientists featured were chosen because they each contributed to a singular breakthrough of importance, introducing an innovative and highly effective vaccine platform, based on mRNA, that will impact our health and well being far beyond this pandemic”.
With the medical community being so notably featured on covers that are usually only graced by the faces of celebrities and billionaires, it shines a light on the people who have been working tirelessly to unlock a locked down world and raises the question of how we can show our continued support for the frontline workers who have been continuously risking their own safety in the name of helping others fight COVID-19.
Nurses during the global pandemic have been met with truly unprecedented circumstances, and the virus has shone a light on how nurses are treated, trained, paid and appreciated.
In the last year, there has been a massive importance placed on the training of nurses, and how the US can get more nurses into the workforce. And while this is extremely important to help ensure hospitals have the adequate amount of staff, many nurses have pointed out that not enough is being done to improve their daily working conditions.
Governor of West Virginia Announces New Nursing Program
In December, Governor Justice of West Virginia announced a 48 million dollar plan to improve and expand nursing education, retention, and recruitment in the state. “We have a shortage of nurses right now in West Virginia,” Gov. Justice said. “Last year alone, 1,700 West Virginia nurses didn’t renew their license, and 68% of them said the reason they didn’t is because they were just plain tired”. The plan is set to focus primarily on education and recruitment, with smaller emphasis placed on retention, with the Governor stating that they will be evaluating current circumstances in the hopes of identifying any burdensome areas facing frontline workers.
While acknowledging the shortage of nurses is long overdue, many nurses serving in the local state legislature were quick to highlight that adding more nurses will not fix the long-term issues facing all nurses in the United States.
“You can educate a million nurses, but if you can’t retain them, are your dollars put toward education really serving the purposes for the residents and patients of West Virginia? Why are we focusing on pulling people in from other areas when we really need to focus on the work environment that might help us retain the workforce?” asked Glasko-Tully, a representative for West Virginia's 41st district in the House of Delegates, who was also an ICU bedside nurse for 13 years.
Burnout Is Real, And It’s Increasing
The sad truth is that nurses have been reporting feelings of stress, anxiety and general burnout long before the pandemic made their working lives infinitely harder, and simply adding more nurses into the mix will not solve the issue. A 2021 study carried out by Medscape found that job dissatisfaction increased 41% among nurses during the global pandemic, although the majority did express that caring for patients was still the most rewarding part of their jobs. This shows that hospitals are lucky to have passionate and caring people in the right jobs, but many cannot endure long shifts, lack of coverage and poor salaries.
.Nurses Choosing To Become Travel Workers On The Rise
In the wake of such difficult conditions, many nurses are taking their career into their own hands. More and more have been leaving their jobs to become Travel Nurses, which means they are on standby and ready to fly to any location in the US that is experiencing a shortage of staff. By doing this, they are almost tripling their hourly income. According to an Independent study of the healthcare force, the number of nurses choosing to become travel workers has increased 35% year over year.
While many might enjoy becoming a travel nurse so they can break the monotony of their job or to travel more, the truth is that this shouldn’t be the only option for nurses who want to make more money or improve their working conditions.
Nurses Walkout Of Ohio Assisted Living Facility
In recent days, the National Guard had to be called in to help at an assisted living facility in Ohio after nurses walked out because they were being overworked and underpaid. “It got to a point where us nurses were working anywhere from 18 to 21 hours and we would reach out to management and the only response we would get was, ‘Oh boy, that sucks’ and ‘Oh boy, I hate that,’” former wellness director and nurse Ajaih Insley said. This is the reality for many nurses, who now fear such harsh conditions mean they are worried about carrying out the basics of their job.
Insley continued by stating how, due to sheer exhaustion, many nurses there felt they were not in the right state of mind to be administering life-saving medications. Long hours and stressful conditions are impacting nurses' ability to do their jobs, and the time for local and state governments to act is now.
Nurses Condemn New CDC Isolation Guidelines
On December 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their isolation guidelines for those diagnosed with COVID-19. This included decreasing the amount of time that healthcare personnel have to isolate after testing positive for the virus from 10 days to as low as 5 days. The CDC also changed its guidance for healthcare personnel who’ve had “a higher-risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2” so that they don’t necessarily have to quarantine at all.
National Nurses United were quick to highlight that said changes would “lead to more exposure to the virus, exacerbating the so-called #nursingshortage created by risky hospital industry policy”. After publicly pleading with the CDC to reverse these latest mandates, NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez penned a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, calling these new measures ``dangerous” and that “Weakening Covid-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating Covid-19 surge yet, will only result in further transmission, illness, and death”.
Triunfo-Cortez ended by stating “Let’s be clear: This is about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health”. These worrying new guidelines have been met with widespread criticism from nurses around the country, who are already working in strenuous environments, with no signs of slowing down.
What’s evidently clear from the last month of nurse-related news is that not enough nurses are being consulted on the right measures that need to be taken to not only improve the conditions of retention of healthcare workers, but to also slow the spread of COVID-19. We’re calling for any and all decision makers to consult the people on the ground, in the trenches, who are living this reality in order to make the lives of nurses more balanced, rewarding and most of all, safe.