By Debbie White
As health workers begin to see their hospitals being overwhelmed by this omicron wave, an increase that rivals that first terrible peak in March, April and May 2020, they feel a terrifying sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. Once again, healthcare workers feel abandoned by the very people who should be supporting them.
Two years after the start of this pandemic, we no longer greet healthcare workers, thanking them for the important work they are doing. Do we just assume they can handle the growing number of hospitalized COVID-positive patients?
Here is the reality of the situation: Our nurses and other health care workers have been traumatized by this pandemic. Many show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are exhausted and frustrated. Many were infected themselves, some with lasting side effects. Some are dead. With this new variation, we see a large number of our healthcare workers infected and sick.
Unfortunately, the safety measures that flattened the curve in 2020 have not been reinstated to help mitigate the spread of the new, more contagious variant. Although many report mild symptoms, many others will see serious illness requiring hospitalization.
The reason for slowing down transmission, aka “flattening the curve” is to protect the system. This will ensure that there will be hospital staff and beds available when patients with more serious illnesses are admitted.
A simple mandatory indoor masking warrant in New Jersey could have helped limit disease transmission in early December when the cases first emerged in our state. This has never happened, although some municipalities have put in place masking warrants after the increase in cases in their area. We congratulate these leaders.
To make matters worse, many nurses and other healthcare workers have already quit their hospital jobs because the environment is not worth the risk. What was already a severe shortage of bedside caregivers has turned into a staffing crisis in our hospitals. Healthcare workers feel replaceable, valued not as human beings but for the service they provide.
Then, over the past week, we have seen the federal agencies that exist to protect the health and safety of workers and citizens, completely abandon the people they serve. Cancellations of Center for Disease Control (CDC) quarantine periods don’t make sense. In fact, it can lead to even greater exposure and increased hospitalizations.
Workers, believing they are no longer contagious, may return to work prematurely to infect many more. Finally, employers are using this shorter quarantine to demand that sick workers return to work, perhaps while they are still sick and contagious.
In addition, the elimination of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Temporary Emergency Standard (ETS) for healthcare will once again allow free admission to all in our hospitals, giving a passes to hospital administrations when they do not follow. the security measures in the event of a pandemic mandated by the ETS. The ETS should have remained in effect until a permanent COVID standard replaced it.
The sudden announcements, made by the CDC and OSHA during one of the worst outbreaks since the start of the pandemic, not only sound foolish, but they show complete disregard for our healthcare workers and the healthcare system.
It’s no wonder that healthcare workers feel abandoned by OSHA, the CDC, employers, and state and federal governments. These exhausted workers are diligently struggling to continue providing care during a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. But since they take care of a sick and suffering public, who takes care of them?
Debbie White is the President of Healthcare Professionals and Allied Health Workers. HPAE is the largest union of registered nurses and other health professionals in New Jersey, representing 14,000 workers in hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, blood banks, and health centers. university research.
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