Are you contributing to the increased staffing crisis and supply shortage in Emergency Departments during the COVID-19 outbreak? Please stay home and self-quarantine unless you are experiencing difficulty breathing.
The healthcare industry and specifically the Emergency Department (ED) has been battling a shortage of staff for years. A contagious global pandemic provides us a front row seat to watch the health-care cookie crumble. I currently work at Stamford Hospital and have been an ED nurse for the past four years. I have seen firsthand how high patient volume can negatively impact patient care. The ED is the first line of defense in the hospital, as almost all patients admitted must come through the ED. As more patients pass through the doors, there are increased tasks, tests, evaluations and medicines to be administered. Even if you are not critically ill and don’t require a full medical work up, you are still taking up valuable time and resources of the ED staff.
With the arrival of the corona virus outbreak, anyone who comes in with respiratory symptoms or recent travel must be placed in strict isolation, tying up valuable resources and using up limited supplies. Yet, many of you are coming into the ED for non-emergent reasons; “I just want to get tested,” or “I have a fever and feel okay but just wanted to make sure I don’t have corona virus.” What these patients do not realize is that if they are stable, they will likely be discharged home on isolation. For this reason, if you are not emergently sick and symptomatic in a way that is affecting your breathing, please stay home and self-quarantine.
Resources in battling this pandemic are limited not just in masks, gowns, ventilators, and tests but also in nurses and providers. Each person that checks in for non-emergent reasons is using up these valuable resources.
The production of masks, gloves, gowns has increased, in an attempt to meet demands, but there still are not nearly enough. Our ED staff currently must re-use the same N95 mask for two 12 hour shifts before we are supplied a new one from the hospital, and many nurses on the inpatient floors are only supplied with simple string masks.
Unfortunately, the number of nurses and providers cannot be easily increased, and this makes them an even more valuable resource. Patients who are stable and come to the ED for testing are potentially exposing numerous healthcare staff unnecessarily. With limited protective equipment, exposed healthcare workers run the risk of contracting the virus themselves or transmitting this virus to other more immunocompromised patients — with drastic negative effects. If a healthcare worker becomes symptomatic or infected, we are mandated to not work and self-quarantine. This leaves our departments further short staffed and unable to provide care to those who truly need it for survival.
The more people that check in and the more nurses that are exposed, the higher the patient-to-nurse ratio becomes. These high patient-nurse ratios cause increased workloads which have been shown to increase the death rates in critically ill patients and increase the occurrence of medication errors and adverse patient outcomes.
We, as a healthcare industry, ask you to please stay well informed with local and national CDC recommendations. Please utilize outpatient testing and do not come to the ED unless truly warranted. If resources within the hospitals are wasted now, we will not have the adequate staffing and protective equipment when it is needed in a matter of life or death. Without strict self-isolation this pandemic will not end.
Heed the call to action! We must band together and practice self-isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and give the health care industry a fighting chance.
Mark Cinquegrana Jr. of Norwalk is a registered nurse.