Eastside Nurses: exhausted staff, hospitals preparing for patient surge; ‘now, more than ever, continue to shelter in place’

As Washington State [potentially] begins to see a slight slow in the rate of increase in positive COVID-19 cases, hospitals are still dealing with supply shortages and preparing for what could come.

This past week we had the opportunity to speak to two Eastside nurses who agreed to relay some information to our readers. We hope hearing directly from the people on the front lines will be impactful.

One Eastside Emergency Department nurse said, “We are expecting and preparing for the worst and the system could be overwhelmed… Supplies are already dwindling. No one was prepared for a pandemic like this, and one that spreads so rapidly and requires so much protective gear for healthcare workers.”

Last week Vice President Pence said they know two things for certain: COVID-19 is three times more contagious than the flu AND people are spreading it before they show symptoms.

While New York State has replaced Washington as the U.S. novel coronavirus epicenter, both nurses we spoke to agreed their hospitals are still at risk of being overwhelmed and social distancing is critical.

One exhausted Eastside nurse said staff morale is low in hospital units, patient assignments are heavy and full of sicker people needing lots more care than usual.

COVID cases were on the rise in that nurse’s hospital this past week. As hospitals typically see COVID patients a couple of weeks after symptoms develop, this hospital is likely seeing patients who got the virus before stricter social distancing measures were mandated by the state.

The nurse commented, “The one silver lining to this is that the teamwork on the units have become incredible and everyone is banding together to get through each shift at a time.”

Protective supplies for healthcare workers are critical. The ED nurse explained for healthcare workers to protect themselves from the highly contagious droplets that may also be airborne during respiratory procedures, a large amount of equipment is needed – like specially fitted masks, goggles, gowns, hats, and ideally hood devices with negative airflow to remove and continually clean the air they breathe.

Earlier this week that ED nurse said, “We have been out of PAPR hoods (powered air purifying respirator hoods) for three weeks I believe, and instead use N95 masks and goggles – which, in my opinion, are not as effective – we are having to reuse the N95 masks for multiple uses as well, which is not what they were designed for. The safest thing to do is wear the N95 AND the PAPR hood, but that is no longer an option.”

While the federal government has been working to help impacted states increase supplies, the other nurse said they’re still re-using and rationing supplies at their hospital.

The ED nurse said, “Hospitals are currently scrambling to prepare for the “surge” of patients coming in the next 1-2 weeks. It will soon be evident how well our state has been following or not following the stay at home and social distancing mandates.”

The nurse is pleased that the explosion of cases currently happening on the East Coast did not happen here to nearly the same degree. They are hoping such an explosion doesn’t happen in the coming weeks, but the nurse says they are preparing as if it will.

That nurse commented, “I am hopeful we have slowed the spread just enough to have time to get the equipment we need and not to overwhelm our hospitals. To have this trend continue we all must now, more than ever, continue to shelter in place.”

The other nurse said, “Now is the time where everyone is making sacrifices for the good of everyone. It’s going to be hard, especially since this virus is being shown in the media as only affecting older people and compromised individuals, but it is still affecting younger people. Even though you might not be showing symptoms, you could transmit them to someone.”

On Friday, March 27th the Washington State Department of Health reported the results of nearly 53,000 COVID-19 tests processed to date, with 3,723 people – or 7% – testing positive. See age group breakdown of Washington cases below.

University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation COVID modeling projections show the state’s peak happening in mid-April.

WA State COVID cases by age group
Nurses at UW Medicine COVID-19 test site. Photo: Twitter

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  • If I was a medical professional, I’d wonder where my unions and professional orgs (AMA, etc) were in all this. Everyone knew this was coming. Not a single doctor is surprised a pandemic is here. We see segments on the news showing our hospitals trainaing for pandemics and for earthquakes. Did not a single person ever ask “Hey, if this was a real pandemic, we’d need 10,000 times more N95 masks. Do we have them? And if not, could we get them in 48 hours?”

    In 2005, the US created a strategic reserve of PPE with 100M masks. In 2009, it was drained by H1N1 demands. It was never refilled in 2010 and beyond. But even still, the current pandemic is estimated to needs billions of masks–20 times what the strategic reserve would have held if it were filled back up in 2010.

    Every day we read hospitals are creating new beautiful facilities–state of the art! Hospitals have chefs that create a variety of wonderful meals, including vegan and vegetarian–the hospital cafeteria today is a far cry from the “mystery meat” served in the 70’s. Baristas stand by ready to take your order. Everyone want to know your pronoun. All the questionnaires are available in 7 languages. The doctors even ask if you have guns at home! These places ooze money.

    The AMA lectures everyone that health care for people in this country illegally is a human right. Did the AMA ever once look at the PPE situation in the last decade? Why are they screwing around on nice-to-have things like health care for people here illegally and lecturing everyone on “kids in cages” when they have utterly failed to take care of the very basic things society needs?

    States like California have spent $6B just on studying high speed rail and they have no PPE. That $6B would buy about 10 billion N95 masks. States like NY opted to spend billions on solar energy projects that went broke instead of buying $600M worth of ventilators their experts told them they would need in 2015.

    Our health professionals are doing a wonderful job. But their unions and organizations have failed them. Our local govs have failed too by not spending on the basic needs and instead focusing on the fun things. Sure, it’s probably a lot more fun to attend a gala for a new pediatrics wing that costs $1B than it is to spend $1B on protective equipment that will sit in a warehouse until its needed once a decade. But that is life: You need to prioritize correctly. Our leaders here have failed. They failed at the professional level, they failed at the state level and they failed at the federal level.

  • Living Snoqualmie