The demands on hospital and school nurses continue to rise as COVID-19 cases surge again, closing many schools this week and bringing more sick patients to hospital beds.
“The problem is morale. The problem is exhaustion,” said Anne Goldman, a United Federation of Teachers vice president who oversees the union’s Federation of Nurses. Many hospital nurses who worked long, crushing hours through the first intense wave of COVID-19 in the spring now feel defeated as the number of people infected with the virus is again soaring, she said. Some nurses have left hospital care to move on to other, less stressful and less life-threatening nursing jobs.
The combining factors of people refusing to wear masks, gathering in large crowds, and students returning to their families and towns from college are all contributing to the spike.
“The numbers will continue to go up,” said Goldman, who chairs NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council. “We’re surrounded by the flu also.”
Unlike other disasters, this pandemic never completely stopped, and its ongoing public limitations restricted tired nurses from being able to relax and regroup. Now cases are rising again.
In Staten Island, hospital cases of COVID-19 are rising rapidly, said nurse Nancy Barth-Miller, Federation of Nurses/UFT and a longtime member of the NYSUT Health Care Professionals Council.
“We had 32 inpatient cases last week; it was up to 52 in two days. Now it’s up to between 70 to 80,” she said.
The hospital network has separated into COVID-contained treatment at Staten Island North, and other illnesses and surgeries at Staten Island South.
“We’re trying to keep the heavy-duty PPE concentrated cases in one area,” Barth-Miller said. While in the spring there were problems getting enough personal protective equipment for hospital nurses, school nurses, first responders and other health care providers, Barth-Miller said the nurses have been getting enough supplies and shields for now.
NYSUT helped deliver thousands of masks downstate during the shortage.
The pandemic also contributed to the Staten Island Hospital ending its chemical dependency detox and rehab services, Barth-Miller said. Mitigating factors included finances and to avoid having increased foot traffic in and out of the hospital. This has meant not only a shortage of services for those battling addiction — which has been on the rise during COVID-19 — but also nursing layoffs.
The union contract will ensure training is provided to those nurses who were absorbed in other departments, Barth-Miller said. “There’s been a lot of reorganization,” she said.
Citywide, the UFT is providing free mental health services through virtual counseling for members in need. NYSUT has resources available through its Social Services program.
As the holidays approach, there are even more concerns about cases spiking with more individuals planning to travel — across the state or across the country — and spending time indoors in large groups. Nurses on the frontlines urge vigilance. Protect yourself and others by wearing a mask, maintain social distancing and avoid large gatherings.
The union has a host of COVID-19 resources available for members: