On the front lines of COVID, nurses confront life and death

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A fire engine wailed its siren up Cotton Avenue and disappeared behind the El Paso Long Term Acute Care hospital.

A man at the front desk held his hand up to a visitor: “Please wait outside. A COVID patient is being transferred.”

Upstairs on the third floor, in an office outside the COVID-19 wing, nurse Valerie Scott updated a co-worker on the patient being rushed by the fire department to an emergency room. She wore black scrubs and spoke from behind a black surgical mask.

The supplemental oxygen wasn’t helping. The man couldn’t breathe.


“I don’t think he is coming back,” she said, worried.

725 people have died of COVID-19 in El Paso since March 23 — the day the county reported the first death tied to the novel coronavirus, according to El Paso Times. Grandparents, parents, siblings and one teenager have died; retired people, working people and teachers have died. Nurses have died.

The bed belonging to the man who left Scott’s hospital in distress would be occupied again that evening. The waitlist for her 15 dedicated COVID-19 beds had swelled overnight from 22 to 32 patients.

Across the city, more than 1,000 people per day are testing positive and the city’s major hospitals are overrun with severely ill and dying El Pasoans. Hundreds of health care workers have flown into El Paso to pick up shifts from exhausted doctors and nurses and to staff tent hospitals erected in parking lots. The refrigerators of six morgue trailers hummed, keeping the bodies cold.

The El Paso Long Term Acute Care hospital, physician-owned and licensed for 33 beds, is pitching in as it can.

“They tried to talk to the family,” Scott told her co-worker, who manages the relationship with acute-care hospitals, about the COVID-19 patient transferred out. “Basically, at this point, it would be better to give him comfort measures… Here there was nothing more we could do.”

She had reason to worry: When doctors have ordered an emergency room transfer of a COVID-19 patient, it meant things had taken a turn for the worse and the patient rarely survived.

The co-worker cursed under her breath.

In the city outside, beyond the hospital’s pale pink stucco walls, El Pasoans went about their day, most in face masks but with few other precautions. People shopped at Target and Walmart and shopping centers. Bars-turned-restaurants kept dining rooms open to guests. A fight between city and county leaders and businesses over restrictions on daily life lumbered through the court system.

The relentless war against a deadly, invisible enemy was out of sight to all but those working its front lines.

The El Paso Long Term Acute Care hospital faces southeast, soaking up morning light, built as it was in 1925 for tuberculosis patients when sunlight was the only cure for another disease that eats away at the lungs and suffocates those who succumb to it.

The COVID-19 wing occupies half of the hospital’s third floor.

Inside, the narrow

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Coronavirus surge sees US hospitals scramble for nurses

As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals.

Nurses are being trained to provide care in fields where they have limited experience. Hospitals are scaling back services to ensure enough staff to handle critically ill patients. And health systems are turning to short-term travel nurses to help fill the gaps.

Adding to the strain, experienced nurses are “burned out with this whole (pandemic)” and some are quitting, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, where several left just in the past month to work in hospice or home care or at outpatient clinics.

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“And replacing them is not easy,” Fitzpatrick said.

As a result, he said, the ER is operating at about five nurses short of its optimal level at any given time, and each one typically cares for four patients as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge anew. Hospital officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But the departures are not surprising, according to experts, considering not only the mental toll but the fact that many nurses trained in acute care are over 50 and at increased risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, while younger nurses often have children or other family to worry about.

“Who can actually work and who feels safe working are limited by family obligations to protect their own health,” said Karen Donelan, professor of U.S. health policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “All of those things have been factors.”

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Donelan said there is little data so far on how the pandemic, which has killed more than 231,000 people in the country, is affecting nursing overall. But some hospitals had a shortage even before the virus took hold, despite a national rise in the number of nurses over the past decade.

With total confirmed coronavirus cases surpassing 9 million in the U.S. and new daily infections rising in 47 states, the need is only increasing.

Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Health Care is offering $15,000 signing bonuses for nurses with at least a year of experience and hiring contract nurses through private staffing companies to handle a surge in hospitalizations that prompted the system to almost quadruple the number of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

Aspirus, which operates five hospitals in Wisconsin and four in small communities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, also is moving nurses around between departments and facilities as hot spots emerge, said Ruth Risley-Gray, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Aspirus.

ARE POLL WORKERS AT INCREASED RISK FOR CORONAVIRUS? 

Outside help still is needed, in part because some nurses have gotten sick from or were exposed to the cornavirus during the current wave, which “came with a vengeance” starting in August, Risley-Gray said. At

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Hospitals competing for nurses as US coronavirus cases surge

FENTON, Michigan (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals.

Nurses are being trained to provide care in fields where they have limited experience. Hospitals are scaling back services to ensure enough staff to handle critically ill patients. And health systems are turning to short-term travel nurses to help fill the gaps.

Adding to the strain, experienced nurses are “burned out with this whole (pandemic)” and some are quitting, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, where several left just in the past month to work in hospice or home care or at outpatient clinics.

“And replacing them is not easy,” Fitzpatrick said.


As a result, he said, the ER is operating at about five nurses short of its optimal level at any given time, and each one typically cares for four patients as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge anew. Hospital officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But the departures are not surprising, according to experts, considering not only the mental toll but the fact that many nurses trained in acute care are over 50 and at increased risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, while younger nurses often have children or other family to worry about.

“Who can actually work and who feels safe working are limited by family obligations to protect their own health,” said Karen Donelan, professor of U.S. health policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “All of those things have been factors.”

Donelan said there is little data so far on how the pandemic, which has killed more than 231,000 people in the country, is affecting nursing overall. But some hospitals had a shortage even before the virus took hold, despite a national rise in the number of nurses over the past decade.

With total confirmed coronavirus cases surpassing 9 million in the U.S. and new daily infections rising in 47 states, the need is only increasing.

Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Health Care is offering $15,000 signing bonuses for nurses with at least a year of experience and hiring contract nurses through private staffing companies to handle a surge in hospitalizations that prompted the system to almost quadruple the number of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

Aspirus, which operates five hospitals in Wisconsin and four in small communities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, also is moving nurses around between departments and facilities as hot spots emerge, said Ruth Risley-Gray, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Aspirus.

Outside help still is needed, in part because some nurses have gotten sick from or were exposed to the cornavirus during the current wave, which “came with a vengeance” starting in August, Risley-Gray said. At one point in mid-October, 215 staffers were in isolation after showing symptoms or being exposed to someone who tested positive, and some are just starting to return to

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Two Brothers, Nurses, Work Side By Side in COVID-19 ICU | U.S. News Hospital Heroes

After they graduated from high school in North Carolina, Guillermo Vargas and his brother Jonathan wanted to join the Marines. The Mexican immigrants were prepared to serve the U.S. by donning military fatigues and battling enemies overseas.

The Marines turned the Vargas brothers away, Guillermo and Jonathan say, because of their immigration status. Born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as children without documentation, the brothers were approved for a program that shields kids like them from deportation. But the program doesn’t confer all the rights of citizenship or permanent legal residency.

So today, the brothers serve on a different front line – in the battle against COVID-19. Guillermo, 32, and Jonathan, 30, are both registered nurses in the intensive care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Instead of wearing camo and carrying military-grade weapons to battle flesh-and-blood enemies, the brothers don personal protective equipment – disposable gowns, gloves and masks – to protect themselves against the highly transmissible novel coronavirus.

The daily battle they wage while providing treatment to COVID-19 patients in the ICU exacts a heavy emotional and mental toll on the brothers.

Several times, both siblings have cared for patients over a period of weeks, getting to know them and the relatives who call to check on their loved ones. Some COVID-19 patients have briefly improved, only to quickly deteriorate and die. “It does feel like you’re in a never-ending battle, the way the pandemic is going right now,” Jonathan says. “You’re fighting for people’s lives, and patients keep streaming in. We’re exhausted, we’re tired, we’re mentally burned out.”

Jonathan recalls being present as another nurse held an iPad so a COVID-19 patient near death could speak to his relatives one final time. “It was pretty difficult,” he says. “The patient was taking his last breaths surrounded by strangers.” Watching COVID-19 patients die without the company of loved ones “is one of the hardest things we do,” Guillermo says. “The first thing you think about is your family. You think ‘this could be my mom, my dad, my brother.’ It’s very sad.”

In the first weeks of the pandemic, Wake Forest Baptist didn’t allow family members to visit COVID-19 patients because of the highly-transmissible nature of the virus, the brothers say. Forsyth County, where Winston-Salem is located, was then among the handful of counties reporting the highest number of novel coronavirus cases in North Carolina. The rate leveled off, more or less, during the summer. Cases are now rising again: In the medical intensive care unit where the Vargas brothers work, most of the 32 beds for COVID-19 patients have been filled in recent weeks. Overall, the hospital has about 70 beds for COVID-19 patients; officials can increase or decrease the number of COVID-19 beds, depending on the need for them, a Wake Forest Baptist spokeswoman says.

Stressful Immigration Status

The two siblings spent their early years in a poor area in the state of

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Nurses comprise most coronavirus hospitalizations among health care workers, CDC says

Nurses comprised the highest percentage of coronavirus hospitalizations over other types of health care personnel, says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agency assessed data from the COVID-19–Associated Hospitalization Surveillance Network (COVID-NET). Of over 6,000 adults who were hospitalized with coronavirus between March to late May, 5.9% were health care workers.

Nurses comprised the highest percentage of coronavirus hospitalizations over other types of health care personnel, per the CDC. (iStock)

Nurses comprised the highest percentage of coronavirus hospitalizations over other types of health care personnel, per the CDC. (iStock)

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Almost one-third of the hospitalized health care workers were nurses. In total, over 36% of health care personnel worked in nursing-related jobs, including certified nursing assistants.

“Nurses are frontline workers and might be at particular risk for exposure because of their frequent and close patient contact, leading to extended cumulative exposure time,” according to the CDC report.

Of all the health care personnel, nearly 90% had at least one underlying condition, and obesity was the most common at 73%. Nearly one-third of the workers required intensive care, and 4% died.

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Nurses make up a significant proportion of health care workers in the U.S. The CDC noted that, in 2019, registered nurses comprised about one-third of health care practitioners. 

Serious cases of COVID-19 among health care workers at risk of transmission “could decrease the workforce capacity of the health care system,” the CDC wrote.

The agency stressed the importance of face masks while inside health care facilities to lower the risk of virus transmission. Eye protection was advised during patient contact in areas with elevated community virus spread.

The data had limitations, including how it was unknown whether workers were infected in the workplace or out in the community. 

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Nurses Make Up Most Hospitalized Coronavirus Health Care Workers, CDC Finds | Health News

Most of the health care workers hospitalized with the coronavirus are nurses, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The report found that nearly 6% of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were health care workers, with 36.3% of those patients being nurses. More than two-thirds, 67.4%, had direct patient contact and more than 4% of the health care workers who were hospitalized died.

Photos: Daily Life, Disrupted

TOPSHOT - A passenger in an outfit (R) poses for a picture as a security guard wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus stands nearby on a last century-style boat, featuring a theatrical drama set between the 1920s and 1930s in Wuhan, in Chinas central Hubei province on September 27, 2020. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The CDC’s report included medical records from nearly 7,000 coronavirus patients who were in the hospital between March 1 and May 31.

Nearly 90% of health care workers who were hospitalized with the virus had at least one underlying medical condition, with the most common, 73%, being obesity.

According to the report, the median age of the hospitalized health care worker was 49, compared to 62 among the general population. Most health care workers in the hospital with COVID-19 were women, with a large proportion being Black.

Additionally, the report found that the median length of hospitalization among the providers with COVID-19 was four days and 27.5% of providers were admitted to the intensive care unit for a median of six days.

The CDC said the findings were comparable to those reported among health care providers with COVID-19 in China.

In the U.S., nursing-related occupations account for a large proportion of the health care workplace, and in 2019 registered nurses represented approximately one-third of health care providers.

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Eight months into the pandemic, nurses say they still aren’t getting the safety equipment they need

Hospital Nurses
Hospital Nurses

Nurses hold a meeting on one of five Covid-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside where patients are taken to recover from the virus. Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

This article originally appeared here on Salon.com

Since the start of the pandemic, around 635,000 Americans have been hospitalized for symptoms related to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The massive hospital influx of COVID-19 patients in this span has taxed the American healthcare system, in particular nurses, who deal with the minute-by-minute needs of these hundreds of thousands of patients. Unfortunately, many of those nurses say they have not been receiving the help that they need in return.

According to a report released last month by National Nurses United, the largest organization of registered nurses in the United States, at least 213 nurses in the United States have died of COVID-19 and related complications since Sept. 16, nearly three-fifths of whom were nurses of color. (By contrast, just under one fourth of American registered nurses are people of color.) National Nurses United also told Salon that 232 nurses have died overall as of Friday.

The National Nurses United report also found that at least 1,718 health care workers have died of COVID-19 and related complications, including registered nurses; nearly one-third of the hospital health care workers who suffered this fate were registered nurses. Overall, their report found that there have been at least 258,768 cases of COVID-19 among health care workers, a number representing 166 percent of the 156,306 cases reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In other words, their report states that the CDC is underreporting them.

Nurses are noticing this, too. A survey released in July of more than 21,200 nurses nationwide found that only 24 percent of nurses believe their employer is making sure they have a safe workplace. Only 31 percent say that every patient is screened for COVID-19. 36 percent are afraid of developing COVID-19, and 43 percent are afraid that they will spread the disease to a family member.

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The data is even more sobering when it comes to personal protective equipment, or PPE, with 87 percent of nurses saying they were required to reuse at least one piece of PPE at some point. Nurses also report chronic understaffing issues, with 27 percent of those who work in hospitals reporting that staffing has declined in recent months, even though the likelihood of patient death increases by 7 percent for every extra patient in a hospital nurse’s workload.

“I’m so disappointed in our lack of preparation as a country for a pandemic,” a nurse from Pennsylvania wrote to Salon. “N95s [a type of surgical mask with a respirator on it] quickly became sparse and we were forced to reuse them for days, basically until [they] broke, when they are intended per the manufacturer to be single/ one time use. We had to put them in a brown paper bag in

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Backus Hospital and the union representing more than 400 nurses agree to a tentative contract after 4 months of bargaining

Backus Hospital and the union representing more than 400 nurses agreed early Saturday morning to a tentative four-year contract the union president hailed as a victory.

Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, said pay raises will help secure a major goal of the union: keeping nurses from leaving for jobs with higher salaries.

In addition, Hartford HealthCare, the hospital’s parent company, agreed to single-use face masks “instead of storing masks in brown paper bags,” she said.

Donna Handley, president of the hospital called the agreement a “fair and responsible contract.”

We greatly value and respect our nurse colleagues and the critical roles they play in our hospital,” she said in an emailed statement.

Nurses have scheduled a ratification vote Thursday.

Nurses went on strike for two days this week to pressure the hospital to negotiate better contract terms. Dayton said the walkout and political involvement by Gov. Ned Lamont helped spur an agreement.

Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected]

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Hospitals search for enough beds and nurses as virus rebounds

The University of Utah Health System, one of the largest hospitals in the state, reported its ICU is 95 percent filled, and health systems in other parts of the country have been forced to relocate patients because of bed and staffing shortages.

Herbert said the National Guard is on standby to build a field hospital in a convention center outside Salt Lake City, and on Tuesday he ordered masks be worn at all outdoor events.

The pandemic is spawning new infections at a rate not seen since the end of July. Hot spots began to cluster in parts of Utah, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Missouri, Mississippi and North Dakota as the nationwide average number of daily new cases surged over the past month.

In Indiana, the state is facing “critical ICU bed shortages along with personnel shortages” according to Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver, only three weeks after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb removed most Covid-related restrictions. Officials have put out a call for volunteers to help fill staffing shortages in hard-hit facilities near the Michigan and Kentucky borders.

Indiana has fewer than one-third of its ICU beds available, according to its health department, and there are more than 1,300 patients in the hospital, the most since May and up 67 percent in three weeks.

“This is especially concerning, because we have not begun to see the typical increase in ICU bed usage from influenza,” Weaver said.

Colder weather pushing more people to gather indoors appears to be driving the latest surge more than school reopenings, according to public health experts. Other areas could soon face similar dilemmas, with U.S. hospitalizations at their highest point since the end of August, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

And the phenomenon isn’t confined to the U.S.: The single-day jump in cases worldwide surpassed 350,000 for the first time on Oct. 9.

Wisconsin, where President Donald Trump plans to hold a rally on Saturday, opened a field hospital on its state fairgrounds in West Allis on Wednesday after officials said the health care system is in crisis.

“Many of our ICUs are strained,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, a deputy secretary with the state’s health department. “Every region of our state has one or more hospitals reporting current and imminent staff shortages.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration asked the Army Corps of Engineers to review plans for two more field hospitals.

The situation appears similarly dire in parts of Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

The area around El Paso, Texas, a city of nearly 700,000, has 10 remaining ICU beds, according to the state health department. On Monday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was sending 75 health workers, including nurses and respiratory therapists, to help respond.

Meanwhile, two out of three major hospitals in Albuquerque, N.M., are at, or exceeding, capacity. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday announced that restaurants and bars must close at 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than five would be prohibited.

“This is the most serious emergency

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