Viewpoint: Hospital leadership is a bigger threat to nurses than COVID-19

Anuja Vaidya (Twitter) - Print  | 

The lack of support from hospital leadership is more dangerous for nurses working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic than the virus itself, a nurse wrote in an opinion piece for STAT News.

According to Jaclyn O'Halloran, a registered nurse from a Massachusetts-based hospital, nurses are being sent to units they are not familiar with without the training they need.

"Many of us don't have a choice. We are assigned to work in unfamiliar units, with patients who are outside our expertise, without any training. We're lost," she wrote.

Outpatient nurses, some of whom haven't worked in inpatient settings or with severely ill patients in decades, are being sent to care for COVID-19 patients. The nurses are told that everyone is "out of their comfort zone, just hang in there," Ms. O'Halloran wrote.

Also, while physicians have been told to avoid patient rooms unless they have to go in, to limit their exposure to the coronavirus, nurses are going from room to room providing care — bathing, turning and comforting patients — often while wearing reused personal protective equipment. Ms. O'Halloran wrote that sometimes nurses will go without food or water all day to avoid removing their protective gear.

Ms. O'Halloran also recounts an incident where a hospital leader dropped off makeup removal wipes so nurses could remove makeup before putting on their N95 masks and the masks could be reused, without asking how the nurses were doing or what they needed.

Nurses keep hearing excuses from hospital leaders saying, "We hear your concerns, but there's nothing we can do," Ms. O'Halloran wrote.

Praise and applause from hospital leadership does not alleviate the dangers nurses face.

"I can read in my co-workers' faces and hear from the stories they tell that the biggest danger we face is not COVID-19. It's the hospital's administration," Ms. O'Halloran wrote.

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