Students, Retirees, and School Nurses Pitch In to Fight COVID-19

Students, Retirees, and School Nurses Pitch In to Fight COVID-19

Nursing students, nursing schools, school nurses grounded after school closures, and retired nurses are all joining the fight against the rising pandemic.

Here are just a few examples to be found across the United States:

Jackson, Mississippi

Seniors at Belhaven’s School of Nursing are performing community outreach and educating the public on how to protect themselves and others from the virus. Students are teaching infection-control techniques, discussed sanitation practices with the college’s operations team, and have posted instructions in campus dorms on maintaining safe hygiene. Senior Rebecca Rylander tells Jackson’s WJTV, “There is a desperate need for healthcare workers amidst this pandemic, and I want to help fill that need.”

Long Island, New York

At nursing and medical programs in Long Island, students barred from immediate contact with patients are playing an active role behind the scenes and on the front lines. While medical students at the Renaissance School of Medicine in Stonybrook are conducting online research and serving patients via telehealth sessions, the Barbara H. Hagan School of Nursing and Health Sciences tells Newsday that they have “alumni, graduate students and faculty working in emergency rooms and testing sites, and undergraduates are working or volunteering as nursing assistants.”

Darien, Connecticut

School nurses have volunteered at Darien High School’s COVID-19 testing station. Lisa Grant, a school district nurse at Hindley School, said “We had been asking our director what we can do to help so when Darien signed up for a site, we volunteered.” Yvonne Dempsey, of Ox Ridge School was also ready to help out. Dempsey told the Darien Times, “As nurses, we put ourselves out there any way we can. I figured that’s something I can do in my free time with the schools closed.” She adds, “Testing is the key — testing and isolation as much as possible is the only way to stop the spread.”

Framingham, Massachusetts, Caldwell, New Jersey, and elsewhere

In response to calls from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing faculty at colleges, universities, and community colleges are rushing to donate supplies of everything from masks to isolation gowns, to hand sanitizer. “This is a time when we all need to come together as a community and work cooperatively to fight this pandemic for the health and safety of everyone,” MassBay Community College President David Podell told the Framingham Source. Jennifer Rhodes, DNP, a faculty member at Caldwell University’s School of Nursing and Public Health, remarked, “As a former emergency room nurse, I cannot imagine what they are experiencing on the front lines right now.”

Chapman, Nebraska

Retired nurses are also answering individual states’ call for help. Nebraska TV spoke to 61-year-old Mary Steiner, a former emergency response nurse, has volunteered for the Central Nebraska Reserve Core. As she waits to put to use her training in natural disaster and emergency preparedness, Mary remarks, “If it’s something that becomes as serious as what’s going on in New York City right now… They’re wanting all hands on deck and so regardless of what my workplace setting has been in the past I know they’re going to be able to use me.”

5 Ways to Stay Well While Working From Home

5 Ways to Stay Well While Working From Home

While you’re confined to working or studying full-time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to take measures to maintain your health and well-being. Here are five tips from Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, co-editor of Evidence-Based Leadership, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship in Nursing and Healthcare, to help you stay well in this era of isolation and social distancing:

1 – Guard your sleep by keeping a regular schedule

Set a regular schedule for getting up and going to sleep. It’s ideal to continue to get up and go to bed at the same time as you would if you were still going in to the office. Also keep in mind that stress takes a toll on your body; you may need more sleep than usual, and that’s okay.

2 – Eat Healthy

You now have more access to your food supply than you would in your office, so be conscious about how and what you are eating. Remember the 80/20 rule – 80% healthy foods and 20% “want” foods. It can be easy to fall into the pattern of grabbing a little food every time you are in the kitchen, but those little nibbles can pile on a lot of extra calories. Instead, set yourself regular snack times and have a healthy snack, such as piece of fruit, a lowfat yogurt or a cup of popcorn. Drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day, as even slight dehydration can make you feel tired.

3 – Beware of the Chair!

It’s important not to sit for long periods of time as it is not only good for your heart health, but it drains your energy. Try getting up and moving around once an hour to sustain your energy throughout the day. Put on some music and dance for 10 minutes, lift weights or household objects, walk up and down the stairs or take a quick wellness walk outside. If you’re home with your children, ask them to join you. You can construct a standing desk at home by piling up books or putting your laptop on a low stool on top of a table.

4 – Shed Stress Regularly

Instead of waiting until work time is over, try to release stress regularly throughout the day so that it doesn’t build up and wear you out. Try a five-minute meditation, take five slow deep breaths at regular intervals throughout the day or write in a journal about what is on your mind. Start each day by counting a few people or things you are grateful for and read five minutes in a positive thinking book. This “me” time will help you be more present for others. If you are stressed or anxious to the point that it is starting to interfere with your functioning, reach out to your healthcare provider or employee assistance program.

5 – Monitor your social wellness

Feeling isolated? Miss talking to people? Pick up the phone and call a coworker instead of sending an email. Have a virtual lunch with a friend. Don’t wait until feelings of loneliness become overwhelming—try to get a little “social time” by video conference or phone every day after work so that you can keep your spirits up.

Finally, remain vigilant in working to help prevent the spread of infection. Follow CDC guidelines for washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water, maintain physical distance from others and do your part to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Cuomo Loosens Reins on NPs, PAs, and More

Cuomo Loosens Reins on NPs, PAs, and More

As New York state climbs the steep face of its COVID-19 curve, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued an executive order vastly widening the scope of practice for some healthcare providers and absolving physicians of certain risks and responsibilities.

Among the order’s provisions:

  • Eliminating physician supervision of physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists, and others
  • Enabling foreign medical graduates with at least a year of graduate medical education to care for patients
  • Allowing emergency medical services personnel to operate under the orders of NPs, PAs, and paramedics
  • Allowing medical students to practice without a clinical affiliation agreement, and lifting 80-hour weekly work limits for residents
  • Granting providers immunity from civil liability for injury or death
  • Suspending usual record-keeping requirements
  • Allowing several types of healthcare professionals — including NPs, PAs, nurses, respiratory therapists, and radiology techs — with licenses in other states to practice in New York. However, physicians were not specifically included in the order, as the Department of Health and Human Services has not yet issued the necessary regulation
  • Suspending or revoking hospitals’ operating certificates if they don’t halt elective surgeries

The order, which remains in place through at least April 22, was met mostly with applause, though with some hesitation around work-hour limits.

C. Michael Gibson, MD, of Harvard, called it “stunning in both the breadth and depth of recommendations” on Twitter.

Shariq Shamim, MD, described it as a “great move,” with the exception that trainee work hour limits shouldn’t be scrapped: “They are already working equivalent to 2 [full-time employees] without Chinese-style PPE. More hours = more risk of exposure,” he tweeted.

Art Gianelli, president of Mount Sinai Morningside hospital in New York City, told MedPage Today that his team is “grateful to the governor for throwing the regulations out the window right now. He’s encouraging us and enabling us to do what we have to do to get through this. It’s the right thing to do.”

John Puskas, MD, chair of cardiovascular surgery at Mount Sinai Morningside, agreed that the steps are the right ones given that New York City “hasn’t flattened the curve adequately to avoid a big wave crashing. We’re really going to feel it in the next 2 or 3 weeks.”

“If simultaneously with that, we lost a meaningful number of healthcare providers to home quarantine, then we’d have a shortage not just of ventilators, but of people to run them and care for patients,” Puskas said.

by Kristina Fiore, Director of Enterprise & Investigative Reporting, MedPage Today

How Gig Nurses Can Stay Safe During COVID-19

How Gig Nurses Can Stay Safe During COVID-19

Demand for healthcare professionals is at an all-time high due to COVID-19, and this includes gig nurses. Unlike other industries that are shuttering or moving to remote interaction, the nursing profession is facing unprecedented demand. Nurses cannot self-quarantine; they are on the front lines providing care to patients in need day in and day out. Now that the world is in the throes of a pandemic, the question, unfortunately, isn’t if nursing professionals will get sick, but when. And when full-time staff numbers begin to dwindle due to sickness, quarantine, and lack of willingness to work, who will step into healthcare facilities and continue to provide much-needed care? 

Gig Nurses Will be More in Demand than Ever

Before COVID-19, the healthcare industry was already facing a staffing crisis– the nursing shortage. The U.S. simply does not have the number of nurses necessary to meet the rising demand for direct care. 

Fortunately, gig brands have emerged to help optimize the nursing workforce. Driven by smart matching technology and data science, gig work allows nurses to achieve a greater work-life balance. For healthcare facilities, it allows them to augment their own full-time staff, helping to reduce staff burnout and turnover. In times like these, where full-time nursing staff will inevitably burn out (or worse, become exposed to the virus), gig nurses will be integral to filling the gaps in care that facilities desperately have. 

It’s worth noting that the gig economy in nursing, for all its merits, also comes with the alarming reality of extra touchpoints of care. Gig nurses that build their own schedule through staffing apps are likely moving from facility to facility, working varied shift times, and interfacing with more patients — which can increase the risk of exposure across multiple settings. If gig economy companies working in healthcare proceed without necessary caution, they have the potential to exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fortunately, with some thoughtful planning and the application of technology, there are plenty of necessary steps gig economy companies can take to help facilities and their workforce avoid spreading COVID-19 in the healthcare staffing setting. 

Educate Yourself and Stay Informed

Oftentimes, per-diem gig nurses don’t have time to walk through all of a facility’s protocols before their shift, so providing nurses with training that can be completed on their device prior to arriving at the facility is key to ensuring that the entire workforce is well-equipped to treat and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, as personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies start to run low, nurses should also be kept informed on best practices to mitigate their exposure, even without adequate PPE on hand. It’s essential that any education is continually updated with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) and that nurses are retested when those updates go live. 

Up-Front Symptom Screening

Facilities are concerned about who is coming into their facility, and nurses are concerned about who they are working with. To protect facilities, staff, and patients from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19, gig economy companies can implement an online symptoms questionnaire that workers can complete before shifts to confirm they are not experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19. If a nurse confirms they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they can be removed from the shift without penalty. With the much-needed help of technology, gig brands can implement this screening mechanism in an efficient and effective way so that nursing professionals who are healthy can get back to work, and those that are sick can be removed from the network. 

Keep Track of Exposure Updates

Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, it is safe to assume that facilities and/or staff will face exposure to the virus, which is why gig companies need to be proactive about their protocol. If a worker or facility reports exposure, technology can contact and alert the entire network of exposed facilities so that workers can take necessary precautions and quarantine themselves, if needed. 

At this stage of the COVID-19 epidemic, whether a nurse works full-time at a facility, or works per-diem at multiple facilities, providing direct care in a healthcare setting presents a high-risk for exposure to the virus. The bottom line is that facilities, their staff, and their patients will need gig nurses to pick up the torch as this pandemic rages on, and gig nurses will need their employers to provide them with innovative solutions to ensure that they can keep themselves, and their patients, safe from COVID-19. 

VA to Retired Medical Personnel: Help Us Fight COVID-19

VA to Retired Medical Personnel: Help Us Fight COVID-19

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approved a request from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on March 19 to waive a section of federal law that governs retired VA workers.

The waiver makes it easier for the department to rehire retired VA health care workers and will help VA health care facilities bolster their medical staffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VA is implementing the authority and could begin hiring actions as soon as this week.

As a result, VA is inviting interested retired physicians, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, respiratory therapists and other medical professionals to register online.

VA is especially looking for health care providers with interest and expertise in:

  • Tele/virtual care
  • Travel Nurse Corps
  • Direct patient care/support (at a VA medical center and/or outpatient clinic)

As a re-employed annuitant, you receive your Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) annuities, as well as a paycheck as a federal employee. The waiver is in effect until March 31, 2021, according to OPM.

Choose VA

Nurses Scrounge for Masks to Stay Safe

Nurses Scrounge for Masks to Stay Safe

As the caseload of patients with the new coronavirus grows, masks and other personal protective equipment are in short supply — and nurses in Washington state are resorting to workarounds to try to stay safe. 

Wendy Shaw, a charge nurse for an emergency room in Seattle, said her hospital and others have locked up critical equipment like masks and respirators to ensure they don’t run out. 

Shaw is the de facto gatekeeper, and is now required to run through a list of questions when anyone comes to get a mask: “What are you using it for? What patient? What’s the procedure?” 

“I have become a ‘jailer’ in a sense of these masks,” she said. 

“We now have to learn how to work with less, and how to be good stewards of the resources that we have,” Shaw said. 

For Shaw, there’s a very personal stress driving her to be careful. She has Type 1 diabetes, and so does her young son, which puts her at high risk for complications if she were to be infected. 

“I am cleaning like I have never cleaned before. I am hyperaware of what I touch, who has brushed up against me,” said Shaw. “We think about this all the time. Every day I wake up without a fever or a cough is a win for me.” 

At some hospitals, nurses and doctors said they are being told that, contrary to standard protocol of disposal after a single use, they should try to clean and reuse their N95 masks, a respirator that protects the face from airborne particles and contaminated liquid. 

Ad Hoc “Mask Workshops”  and Mask Crowdsourcing

Meanwhile, office staff at the corporate headquarters of Providence St. Joseph Health in Renton, Washington, have opened an ad hoc workshop where they are assembling masks and face shields on their own, to bolster resources. 

“At any given time, we are days away from running out of personal protective equipment,” said Melissa Tizon, with Providence St. Joseph Health. 

Tizon said the health system has already delivered 500 face shields to Providence-affiliated hospitals in Seattle and Everett, Washington, and plans to start sewing masks in the coming days. 

Some nurses are even crowdsourcing masks. 

Bobbie Habdas, an ICU nurse at Swedish Medical Center, took to Facebook asking for help from her community. 

“I never thought that we’d necessarily be doing this,” said Habdas. 

Her post gained lots of attention, and she collected more than a hundred masks to share with co-workers. 

“Honestly, it shocked me and it really touched me — it’s extremely appreciated,” she said. 

The outpouring was a bright spot, but Habdas wonders why nurses have to scrounge for supplies, in addition to their regular duties. 

“There is a huge feeling of panic, not only externally, but also internally within the hospital,” said Habdas. 

She said spending time looking for supplies during her shift doesn’t help with the stress of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Patients have died from the disease in Washington, with at least 74 COVID-19 deaths recorded across the state as of Thursday afternoon. 

Sally Watkins, executive director of the Washington State Nurses Association, said nurses are being forced to make do with less. 

“They are not being protected at the level that they should be,” said Watkins. She hopes the region will get more supplies from the federal stockpile soon. 

Communication Breakdowns 

After 39 years as an intensive care nurse, Mary Mills has dealt with other infectious disease crises, but her hospital’s response to the coronavirus outbreak feels different. She remembers helping to intubate HIV patients in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when there was still a lot of fear and unknowns about that illness. 

“Everybody was on the same page,” Mills said. “There was clear communication.” 

Mills works at one of the five hospitals run by Swedish Medical Center in the Seattle area. “I hate to say I don’t feel particularly supported now,” she said. 

Like many health care workers, Mills feels frustrated because the guidance on when to use personal protective equipment, or PPE, keeps shifting, sometimes daily. 

“What they decide I need, in terms of my safety, is being changed based on availability of product, rather than the science,” Mills said. 

“This is super contagious. We can spread it to our kids, our parents and grandparents,” she added. 

This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR and Kaiser Health News. 

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. 

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