In 1995, when they first arrived at Vista View Elementary School in Burnsville, Minnesota, RN Barbara Wardell and CNA Donita Luth knew they would spend much of their time administering medications, treating minor injuries, and coping with childhood illnesses. However, before long they also learned that nursing grade-schoolers can be a lousy experience. “Lice happens,” says Wardell. “Anybody can get it. It does not determine if you are clean or dirty or rich or poor or anything. You get it.” At first, the school principal “had to show us what head lice looked like because neither one of us had ever seen head lice,” but after 25 years, they have become grizzled veterans in the ongoing war. “Now we have a little collection on a piece of paper in the office.”
When the new school year opens, though, Luth will have to curate the lice collection with a new partner. The 65-year-old Wardell is retiring to work full-time at the apple orchard, winery and cidery she runs with her husband. Her departure will mark the end of a generation of nursing teamwork. The RN and CNA formed a tight bond as they worked to sustain a high standard of care for their young charges. After their first year, they exchanged a “pinky swear” to stay on as a team. Wardell recalls, “We just really liked working together. If I was not in the building, I knew it was in excellent hands because I fully trust Donita to be able to do stuff or to call me if she had a question.”
As school nurses, the two knew they had to depend on each other. Wardell observes, “You have no respiratory team, you have no extra nursing staff — it’s all you, your office, your call. A kid comes in in distress, what are you going to do about it?” She adds, “If we needed to take time off, we’d cover for each other. If we had concerns, we supported each other. We became bonded — it just happened.”
Luth will miss her departing colleague, and reflects, “It’s been a good combination. We’ve made a good team.”
Nursing organizations have joined individual nurses in speaking out. American Nurses Association President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN issued a moving statement, in which he remarked, “As a black man and registered nurse, I am appalled by senseless acts of violence, injustice, and systemic racism and discrimination. Even I have not been exempt from negative experiences with racism and discrimination. The Code of Ethics obligates nurses to be allies and to advocate and speak up against racism, discrimination and injustice. This is non-negotiable…. At this critical time in our nation, nurses have a responsibility to use our voices to call for change. To remain silent is to be complicit.”
“You clapped for us. We kneel for you.”
A mingling of professional training and empathy moved nurses such as Miami RN Rochelle Bradley to take a knee in remembrance of Floyd’s death. Bradley told CNN that “Kneeling here today for nine minutes and knowing that that’s how long George Floyd was on the ground with his airway compromised really bothered me as a nurse.”
For healthcare workers, the protests also reinforced their sense of unity in the era of COVID-19. In Boston, nurses who gathered to kneel in front of Brigham and Women’s Hospital carried a sign reading, “You clapped for us. We kneel for you.” One nurse interviewed, Roberta Biens, said, “I just want everybody to know they’re not alone, we’re with them and we’ll stand in front of them or behind them, wherever we need to be to support them.”
Minneapolis nurses appeared in force at the protests. One local ER nurse told the Insider, “COVID is a temporary and critical health crisis. Racism, through violence and disease, has been killing our patients since the hospital was built and will continue killing them long after COVID is gone.” And in an official statement, the Minnesota Nurses Association said, “Nurses continue to see the devastating effects of systematic racism and oppression targeting people of color in our communities. We demand justice for George Floyd and a stop to the unnecessary death of black men at the hands of those who should protect them.”
Hospitals in New York City united to stand behind the protests. The Gothamist scanned official Twitter posts and noted, “The six major hospital systems in the city–NYU Langone Health, Mount Sinai Health System, New York-Presbyterian, NYC Health + Hospitals, Northwell Health, and Montefiore Health System–have all posted publicly in support of the demonstrations…”
Weighing the Call to Civic Action Against Public Health Concerns
Medical practitioners are understandably divided about engaging in public assemblies while the coronavirus is still at large, but many believe the risk is worth taking. On June 8, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “WHO fully supports equality and the global movement against racism,” but added, “As much as possible, keep at least 1 meter from others, clean your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you attend a protest.”
Asked by Health.com about the danger of public protests, Natalie DiCenzo, an Ob-Gyn resident in New Jersey, responded that “the risk of remaining silent and complacent in the face of racism and police violence is also deadly. I believe that with the proper precautions, these protests can be done relatively safely when it comes to COVID-19.”
Nearly 2,000 US “public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders” also expressed direct support for the national protests in a widely circulated June 4 letter (initiated by faculty from the University of Washington School of Medicine). Following a statement that “White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the letter recommended a series of safety measures to protect protestors from the virus. Among other issues it urged “that protesters not be arrested or held in confined spaces, including jails or police vans, which are some of the highest-risk areas for COVID-19 transmission, “ and that no use be made of “tear gas, smoke, or other respiratory irritants, which could increase risk for COVID-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection…”
On Twitter, nurses participating in the protests offered their own practical suggestions. A DC pediatric nurse told attendees to bring gloves, sunglasses or goggles for eye protection, and “an extra mask. Yours will get hot and sweaty so switching it out halfway through is smart. If you have a cloth mask throw a bandana on top too…” Following participation in protests, some nurses have also taken the step of self-quarantining for two weeks.
The state of Minnesota is making headlines this December, not for its freezing temperatures or a new record snowfall, but for increasing medical cannabis access. Clinical cannabis got its start in the state when former governor Mark Dayton signed the first Minnesota medical cannabis bill into law in 2014. Many criticized the bill for being far too restrictive as it listed only 9 qualifying conditions and stipulates a lengthy patient registration process. However, as of December 3rd, 2019, the state added macular degeneration and the much more generally outlined chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions. Minnesota can now expect to see more registered medical cannabis patients thanks to the expanded list of qualifying conditions.
Making Medical Marijuana More Accessible
Though many American states have taken steps to legalize clinical cannabis, a number of potential patients still do not have access. In most cases, state regulations prevent people with certain conditions from using medical cannabis. If the state regulatory body does not list a medical condition as qualifying, then people suffering from that condition may not use cannabis for medicinal reasons, even if a medical professional recommends it as a potential treatment. The stringent nature of qualifying condition lists make Minnesota’s addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition a massive win for medical cannabis advocates.
Chronic pain is a very generally defined medical condition. Any number of ailments can cause it and is usually up to the patient to define. For these reasons, acquiring a recommendation for medical cannabis can be far easier than it is for other conditions. There is little doubt that Minnesota’s clinical cannabis patient registry will expand greatly in the coming months thanks to the addition of chronic pain and macular degeneration. According to the Boston Globe, “As of October, nearly 18,000 patients were certified for the state’s medical marijuana program.” That number is bound to increase as more conditions make the list.
The Future of Medical Cannabis in Minnesota
Many consider Minnesota as having one of the more severely restrictive medical cannabis programs. Though Minnesota’s list of qualifying conditions is still small, it is encouraging that the state continues to implement updates. Lawmakers must work with patients and advocates to continue to pursue the creation of a fair and easily accessible medical cannabis program. If the state continues to update its list of qualifying conditions, it can at least begin to change the narrative.
Just before a series of major climate change rallies were held in cities across the US, the journal Creative Nursing published a special issue on climate change. We spoke with special issue editor Katie Huffling, MS, RN, CNM and contributor/editorial board member Teddie Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN to learn more about climate change as a public health issue, and why so many nurses are attending these rallies and speaking out.
climate change important to the mission of the health and nursing professions?
TP: In nursing we are charged to create environments for people to be the healthiest individuals and communities that they possibly can be. Climate change threatens that. It threatens our patients and communities on multiple levels. The health impacts of climate change are severe and serious, and they’re happening right now. So that why it is important for us to address this as nurses.
longer happening in some parts of the globe, or in some
geographic areas; it’s happening everywhere. Unfortunately, it tends to have
the greatest impact on communities that are already struggling to be healthy. If
I am already challenged by being homeless, for instance, not having access to
AC or heating can lead to real [health] problems, and we see people with such
challenges often suffering worst and first from climate change.
And it’s important to point out that yes, the planet is warming but the impacts are very variable. Places that used to be cool are getting hot; some places that were usually dry are getting very wet. It’s the shift in patterns that has definite health consequences. In California, for instance, you might be more apt as a nurse to be aware of the impact of fires on the air quality affecting individuals and families and people who work outdoors.
But isn’t climate change a political issue? Why should nurses get actively involved?
TP: I hope we have made it very clear that climate change is not a political issue, any more than people having adequate food or clean air should be a political issue. It’s a health issue. And we need all people regardless of their political affiliation to be part of finding solutions and part of finding a healthier future for everyone.
KH: The Lancet has been publishing for the past few years an analysis of climate change and health and they are very clear that climate change is the biggest public health challenge that we face today. It’s a health issue, and the future of our children is at stake.
Are nurses already
seeing health issues connected to climate change?
TP: In Minnesota, we’re seeing changes in our vectors. We see more [outbreaks of] Lyme disease and West Nile disease; we see more people affected by flooding and loss of housing and livelihoods related to flooding. Farmers can’t get their crops planted on time [owing to flooding] and they can’t get their crops harvested on time, so we’re seeing impacts in that area. Health care providers need to understand that there are things we need to be considering in order to protect our patients and teach families and to ensure that if a disaster is likely, that people have a plan. For example, we need to ask “What are you going to do when category 4 and 5 hurricanes come into your area?”
KH: One thing I would add is that no matter what type of nursing you do—whatever your patient population is—there’s some way that climate change impacts that population. For example, when you have extreme weather events, and you have renal patients, are they going to be able to get dialysis? Nurses working in that area have been real leaders in working on emergency preparedness. The same goes for oncology nurses—are your patients going to be able to get their cancer treatments in a timely fashion. There are some things when you first think of them, you don’t realize how it really does span any type of patient population.
“We need to be planning for these people.”
TP: Also, there are community nurses worrying about patients who are homebound and in need of oxygen and other things that require a steady source of electricity. We need to be planning for those people. What do you do when flood waters rise, and you can’t get out of your house because you’re wheelchair-bound? And your caregiver can’t come because they’re stuck [in the flood] where they are, and you can’t even get out of bed? All of these things have to be thought about.
KH: As an example of that, here in DC it’s gotten better because the local utilities have been addressing it, but there were lots of power outages accompanying extreme weather events during the summer. And when families with children on ventilators at home don’t have electricity for a few days, they end up having to take up an ICU bed because they’re not able to be on just a general floor.
TP: As a state that has a significant rural population, [In Minnesota] we are also concerned about people working outside who harvest and pick the crops. We’re concerned about dehydration. A while ago one of our Minnesota Vikings players died from heat exposure and dehydration at the Vikings summer training camp. This is not something that we’ve had to think about in the past. Hot and humid days can impact even young people in peak condition and we are having more and more days with high heat and humidity.
Are today’s nurses
following in Florence Nightingale’s footsteps? Was she the first activist
TP: She was an activist but also a scientist. She was deeply committed to evidence-based practice and she was a brilliant statistician. She really looked at the environment as doing the healing for patients. As she said in Notes on Nursing, “medicine and surgery can remove obstructions… nature alone cures.” And she was a great believer in and taught about the importance of good food, adequate hydration, mobility, cleanly environments, and exposure to fresh air.
In the Crimean war what got her started was that they were seeing more people dying from the care they received in the hospital than from the injuries they received on the battlefield. So it was a care issue and that was what marshalled her and other women at that time to go to Turkey and set up an alternative way of caring—fresh air, clean sheets, adequate food—and people started surviving. It is deeply at the core of the nursing profession: we work with the environment to put people in a position to recover and have a quality of life. Nurses are on the move following the same principles today.
How can nurses get—and how are they getting—involved in the movement to reduce effects of climate change?
KH: I think there are a number of points of engagement. Nurses are really can-do people. When they find a problem, they want to fix it, and so when you start to learn about climate change and its effects, it is natural to immediately want to get engaged.
I think this is a great opportunity for nurses to get together—you know, strength in numbers—to elevate this issue and use our position as America’s most trusted profession to talk about it. Also, [it’s important to] meet with policy makers—whether it’s at the state, national, or local level—when you can speak with elected officials and help them to make that health and climate change connection. Because a lot of elected officials still don’t understand that it’s a health issue and if they want to protect the health of their constituents it’s an issue they need to be taking on.
And, it’s been very exciting to see so many nurses doing things like going to the different climate marches. It’s another way to show that nurses are leaders in the area around climate change. One of the things my organization (ANHE, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments) has been doing is we’ve created a nursing collaborative on climate change and health. This came out of a round-table we did at the White House during the Obama administration where we had around 20 nursing organizations and unions at this round table talking about what nurses can do about climate change and health. It was a really historic event. We were the first group of health professionals that they had reached out to at the time to do something like this.
After that, we decided we needed a strong collaborative effort, and that is how we created the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health. We have 11 organizations, and a couple more really large organizations about to sign on. Working together we show visible leadership among the nursing community as well as among policy makers.
nurses find out more about the impact of climate change?
KH: Well, at ANHE (Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments) we have tons of resources on the website, lots of free tools for nurses to engage. We’ve got talking points, academic databases and case studies, resources for pregnant women and children, and much more.
We’re also part of the Nurses Climate Challenge, in which ANHE’s partnered with Healthcare without Harm. Basically in the Nurses Climate Challenge we have Nurse Champions that sign up on the website. The champions then go out and educate their fellow nurses and other healthcare professionals about climate change and health. They have a really robust toolkit with PowerPoints with notes and posters they can customize if they want to make a presentation at their monthly nursing meeting. Then we track each event: if someone does a presentation, they note how many attended. The first year we had a goal of 5,000 nurses and other healthcare professionals educated, but we quickly grew past that so we decided to up our goal to 50,000 nurses educated by 2022. And we just started that a few months ago, and we’re already past 10,000. It’s exponentially growing!
“It’s an amazing opportunity to prevent disease.”
I’d like to bring in another positive note: this is also the greatest opportunity that we have to impact public health. These things that we can do to affect climate change can have a widespread positive impact on health. It’s an amazing opportunity to prevent disease. And I think that that’s another core feature of nursing practice—that we want to see our patients become healthier and to not have to be treating them for these preventable illnesses. When we address climate change we can have such a positive impact on health.
TP: I’ll just add in that the dean of the Minnesota School of Nursing has appointed me the first Director of Planetary Health for the school, so that nurses can learn to apply what we do to care for the environment so that our patients and our communities will be healthier.
Professional Practice in a Changing World: The Changing Climate
In this special issue of Creative Nursing, vol. 25-3, featured articles include “In Nightingale’s Footsteps—Individual to Global: From Nurse Coaches to Environmental and Civil Society Activists,” “Planetary Health: the Next Frontier in Nursing Education,” “Beyond the Slogans: Understanding the Ecological Consciousness of Nurses to Advance Ecological Knowledge and Practice,” and more…
This is the first time nursing contract negotiations are being
held since 2016, when Allina hospital nurses went on strike for health
insurance benefits. These current negotiations have been in talks, with
contracts set to expire May 31. But it appears that no deal will be happening
by then, and the MNA is planning to strike again.
Workers compensation claims increased by nearly 40 percent
between 2013 and 2014, up to 70 percent, and have remained at 65 percent or
higher since then. These numbers reported by the Minnesota Department of Labor
and Industry only count the most severe cases reported, including those where
nurses missed three or more days of work due to injury.
Talks for nurse protection have been gaining speed since a
2014 incident, where a patient attacked and injured four nurses with a metal
bar. Minnesota passed a law in 2015, making hospital staff training on
de-escalating and preventing violence mandatory.
Another nurse, Michelle Smith, is back to work in surgical recovery but still going through recovery from a concussion she got roughly two years ago. She similarly is pushing for more support in negotiations to prevent these incidents from happening.
In January 2017, the Minneapolis VA Health Care Center opened a hybrid operating room suite with both single plane and biplane radiologic equipment. Our main operating room is a busy 18 room operating room suite that supports complex patient care needs of 13 surgical subspecialties. We are a complex 1A facility. The decision to create a separate hybrid operating room came from a team of professional nurses that specialize in hybrid operating room technology and procedures was adopted and has proven to be highly successful.
Hybrid operating rooms combine minimally invasive approaches to complex patient care needs with the ability to convert to traditional open type surgical interventions. Hybrid operating rooms also support the complex blending of cardiology and cardiac surgery interventions, more specifically the TAVR (trans catheter aortic valve) procedure. The hybrid operating room also blend the expertise of invasive radiologists and vascular surgeons to provide both diagnostic and interventional treatment for complex vascular disease. The hybrid operating room certainly is the future for all hospitals as it allows enormous flexibility in meeting the patient’s procedural needs. The hybrid operating room environment requires a special type of nurse that possesses extreme flexibility, complex thinking skills, keen technical and patient assessment skills. We have achieved this success in Minneapolis in creating a new breed of nursing that possess these qualities.
In development of the hybrid operating room philosophy, we have successfully collaborated with our team members in the cardiac cath lab, cardiology, and invasive radiology suites. We have collaborated in the development of our nursing skills sets, we have combined and share inventory, collaborated in competency validation and nursing education. We work together breaking down the walls of departmental structure to provide multi-disciplinary care for our Veterans!