U.S. Nurses Union Warns of Tensions in Hospitals Amid COVID-19 Outbreak | United States and Canada

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Nurses from the profession’s largest union in the United States have warned of dire strains on the healthcare system as the country sees a further rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.At a press conference Monday, members of the National Nurses United, which represents 170,000 registered nurses across the United States, detailed heartbreaking accounts of the lack of hospital staff, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE ) and an inadequate response from local and federal authorities.

The United States surpassed 12 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Saturday. More than 247,000 people have died nationwide after contracting COVID-19, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.

Despite a mid-year lull in hospitalizations, the number of patients currently hospitalized has more than doubled as the United States enters its colder months. More than 83,000 patients in the United States were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Officials in some regions have warned that hospitals could face worse stresses than they did during the first major outbreak earlier this year. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services released last week showed that 18 percent of hospitals in all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, report “understaffing.” North Dakota is the hardest hit, with 51% of hospitals reporting shortages. Seven other states exceed the 30% mark.

“Almost a year after the start of this pandemic, our hospitals are still unprepared,” said Jean Ross, union president and registered nurse in Minnesota. She said a survey of nurses conducted by the organization found that 80% of hospitals in the United States did not do adequate planning for an increase in cases.

“Our government and health sector employers have not implemented what is needed since the start of the pandemic,” she said. “We always strive for safe staffing and optimal PPE”, as well as appropriate “infection control” measures.

“We need PPE”

Marissa Lee, a labor and delivery nurse in Kissimmee, Fla., Said most of the nurses at the hospital where she works, the Osceola Regional Medical Center, don’t receive optimal PPE that provides ” airborne and droplet ‘precaution when working directly known to be infected with COVID-19. Otherwise, she says, they are given less protective surgical masks.

“We need PPE… PPE is the key word in everything we talk about here,” said Lee, who added that staffing levels have become “dangerous” and staff are regularly transferred. towards services outside their expertise. The hospital administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many people have ignored warnings from health officials and are traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday [Matt Slocum/AP Photo]

Consuelo Vargas, an emergency room nurse in Chicago, Ill. Who had record daily cases this month, described PPE shortages at the John H Stroger Jr Public Hospital in Cook County. She also described a staff shortage amid an influx of patients forced to use the emergency room for primary care after losing their employer-provided insurance amid the pandemic.

She added that the hospital was not properly separating infected people from the population.

“Last week I hit a point where I was numb. I didn’t feel tired. I didn’t feel happy. I didn’t feel angry, ”she says. “I didn’t feel frustrated and I didn’t feel sad. I literally didn’t feel anything. And it’s a scary place for nurses.

Vargas called for more transparency from hospital administrations and government, while urging Americans to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Cook County Health spokeswoman Deborah Song in a statement to Al Jazeera said management had “put the health and safety of our workers and patients first,” including to “ensure sufficient and optimal personal protective equipment, educate staff and develop succession plans, including staffing at all levels”.

However, she acknowledged that staffing hospitals was a “challenge across the country” as surges occur in different areas at different times.

“We don’t have the resources to pay the exorbitant rates or premiums that other hospitals can afford or to contract with agencies to make staff wait until they need them,” he said. she declared. “As such, if staffing were to be called into question beyond what we can afford, we are likely to face a further reduction in services in order to move staff to areas that need it. This is the sad reality of this pandemic. “

‘We need change’

Nurses and hospital administrations have stressed the need for more precautions to reduce the number of patients and reduce pressure on the healthcare system.

U.S. health officials warned against travel and gatherings for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, but millions of Americans have not responded to the call. The Transportation Security Administration said more than three million people were screened at airports on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the highest traffic since March.

“I know the holiday season is upon us. Are you ready to ditch a holiday season for 10 more? Vargas said. “Think about everything you want to accomplish in your life, the places you want to go, the things you want to do, the people you want to spend time with? Are you ready to give up all this?

Healthcare workers treat people waiting in line at a COVID-19 test site at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

Christina Hanson, a nurse in Marquette, Michigan, a state that also had a record number of cases this month, called on state officials across the country, many of whom have resisted imposing restrictions or mandates for masks in public, to “meet us where we are”.

She thanked Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has imposed restrictions aimed at limiting the virus while resisting the derision of President Donald Trump, whose administration has been wary of national or state mandates.

“We are concerned and anxious about contracting this virus ourselves and spreading it to our loved ones,” Hanson said. “Nurses are tough, but as strong and dedicated as our nurses. What we are doing is not sustainable. We are seeing cases climb across the country and we can’t wait to see what will happen. We need change. “



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