Roberta Lavin, PhD, FNP-BC, FAAN graciously shared this perspective piece about the plight of nurses across our country who are working without adequate personal protective equipment. Dr. Lavin, an expert in disaster preparedness, writes a compelling message about what nurses must do to stand together against COVID19. Follow Dr. Lavin on Twitter, @RobertaLavin , and visit her website: Curse of a Nurse.
Nurse X quit her job as a nurse in an ER. She was wearing a N95 mask in the ER lobby. A supervisor said she didn’t need it and asked her to take it off…He told her to quit. She did. Her child needs a mother. It’s only a matter of time before you see more healthcare workers making this choice if they don’t have proper PPE.
I am hearing disturbing stories of supervisors forcing nurses to remove their masks. Nurses have always been advocates for our patients. I don’t know a single nurse that is not willing to go toe to toe with a physician, administrator, or even a family member in advocating for their patients. Yet when nurses need to advocate for themselves they would rather quit than take a stand. The fear of retaliation is stronger than the fear of being unemployed. The dirty little secret of nursing is that we have a reputation for eating our young and not standing together when a colleague is targeted by a supervisor or peer.
The Largest and Least Heard Healthcare Profession
Nursing has 3.8 million women and men many of whom now fear for their lives just by going to work. While I see physicians on the news virtually every hour of the day I have rarely seen people discussing what is happening with nurses or having nurses as guest experts. People continually vote nurses the most trusted profession, but apparently, we are not respected for our expertise. The consequence is when nurses are being forced to take off their PPE (mask) by their supervisors or be fired or threatened with being reported the general public is not hearing our stories.
Many nurses feel they cannot quit their jobs so they remove the mask knowing the risk while others quit their jobs and walk away from the work they love. I have yet to hear of one nurse that refused to take off the PPE and instead told the supervisor to fire them if that is what they must do, but they will not practice in an unsafe manner.
What many people do not realize is that many hospitals have social media policies that prohibit nurses from publicly saying anything against their employer. If the nurse does not remain anonymous they can be fired. Essentially, to be a nurse one must give up their freedom of speech. They must give up the right to safety. They must be willing to risk their lives to stay employed while apparently, the employer has no obligation to provide a safe working environment.
If we have plenty of PPE as the President says almost daily, where is it. Why are nurses and physicians being forced to wear the same N95 mask for days? Is there anyone or even a single expert or one bit of evidence that says that it is safe to wear the same mask for days? We all know the answer is no there is not.
Do Not Quit
I firmly believe that nurses should not walk away from their patients and their jobs. I also believe nurses must learn how to say NO. No, I will not take off the mask I bought because you can’t seem to find them. No, I will not move to a unit when I have health and family obligations that I made known when I was hired. No, I will not wear the same mask for days because we all know that it is not safe. No, I will not be silent if my employer will not keep me safe.
What I will do is file an OSHA complaint, write my Representative, and talk to the press. I will contact a union and ask them to help us organize. I will continue to buy my own PPE and refuse to remove it. I will speak out. I will cancel my memberships to my professional organizations if they don’t start advocating for us in a way that is visible to the country.
Nurses Must Stand Together
I suggest that we take this opportunity to come together as one strong profession and take our place as the largest healthcare profession in the county. It is time to make our voice heard and to let the country and the healthcare system know what we expect and we expect to be safe at work. It is also a good time to change our culture and trust our colleagues as much as the public trusts us. This is not a time we can afford for nurses to quit. If a nurse is told to take off PPE then absolutely ever nurse in the facility should stand together and say either that nurse is allowed to wear the PPE or we will all quit. If we speak with one strong voice the hospitals and healthcare systems will have no choice, but to step up and keep our colleagues safe.
I keep hearing that we have a shortage of PPE. We apparently had enough medical supplies including gowns and mask to send 17.8 tons to China last month to help them, but we don’t have any to keep nurses and physicians safe. We have yet to use the Defense Appropriations Act to force companies to make more PPE. And, we have safety standards that seem to be weakened by the day. We have policies that prevent many companies from selling medical supplies to the U.S. Most significantly, we have a government that is not doing enough to address the problem.
Stand up, speak out, and be heard. Caring for patients requires healthy nurses and physicians.
Bio: Roberta Lavin, PhD, FNP-BC, FAAN – Early in my nursing career, I learned that policy has the ability to change thousands of lives with the stroke of a pen. The policies implemented can make lives better or more difficult. It is important, as a community, to be active in policy development. This means attending meetings, speaking out, sharing one’s time and talent, and finding a balance between our personal “wants” and what will benefit the least among us.
Join me in exploring and discussing the need for compassionate policy in life, practice, and policy. All are welcome to comment and to submit a post or share things that make nursing education better and more compassionate. The underlying theme is always compassionate policy, but my views are heavily influenced by faith and reason, which is the heart of compassion. My personal biography is available on my LinkedIn page.
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
Policy: a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decision.
Compassionate Policy: a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives, in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions in a sympathetic manner that is conscious of the distress of others and demonstrates a desire to alleviate that distress.