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We were like soldiers ready for our instructions, expecting some leadership.

March 17, 2020

Member Voices

Part of a series: COVID-19 — Nurses’ Notes from the Front Line

by Jannet Wharton, RN

I became an RN 27 years ago. I’ve worked all 27 of those years at a large hospital in Oxnard, California, where I also founded a nonprofit institute to train Certified Nurse Assistants and get them on the path to become Registered Nurses. I’m really proud of that work, because we clearly need more trained Nurses in my community. That becomes dangerously clear when there’s a healthcare emergency.

Nursing is in my blood. I’ve worked in most of the departments at my hospital. I’ve been there during other outbreaks. I’ve never seen anything like this. The hospital is so unprepared.

Last week the hospital finally announced a meeting about COVID-19. Nurses were relieved. We’d been following the news from China and Italy. Finally our hospital would do something. But when we got to the meeting room, we found out it was only for doctors. A couple days later they had a meeting for us.

“They’ll have a plan for us,” I thought. I hate to say it, but the presentation was a joke. They were supposedly instructing us on how to properly don and doff personal protective garments. The presenter didn’t know the proper procedure. She was fumbling with the PAPR (powered, air-purifying respirator — the personal protective equipment used to safeguard against contaminated air). Then we were told that we were to save the PAPRs, which are single-use equipment, and “clean” them with hand sanitizer. I was shocked, so I looked online to find instructions for proper cleaning and storing of PAPR. Of course I didn’t find anything. We asked where would we store them, and were told our lockers or “another place” to hang them.

Good grief. They’re contaminated.

One nurse asked in the meeting about shoe coverings, reminding the presenter that the contaminated droplets end up on the floor and healthcare workers are tracking the virus in and out of the room. Shoe coverings are not available.

Not only that, but the presenter repeated that over-used, horribly misleading phrase: it’s just like the flu. I think that’s supposed to calm us, but instead it’s so alarming that a place of science and medicine would repeat something that’s simply not based on fact. That’s just not helpful. We are highly trained professionals.

We walked in to that meeting expecting important information — like triage scenarios and contingency plans. You know, real plans. We were like soldiers ready for our instructions, expecting some leadership. We walked out of that meeting and could see the same “oh crap” expression on each other’s faces.

The movement of patients in our hospital is also very dangerous. Last week, we responded to a Code ELVO — Emergent Large Vessel Occlusion — for someone who’d had a stroke. We went to get the patient from the temporary E.R. and came to a door that had a little sign on it that said “broken.” The door wasn’t broken, so we went through to look for our patient. “You’re not supposed to be in here,” the E.R. manager told us. It wasn’t until after we took our patient back to the Cath Lab that we learned that the temporary E.R. is now an isolation area for COVID-19 patients. So we were exposed, our patient was exposed.

All they did the next day was put some chairs in front of the door. A “broken” sign doesn’t protect me or my patients. Some chairs don’t protect me or my patients. Telling us “this is an isolation unit” protects me and my patients. Good, accurate information and transparency protects me and my patients.

I remember when we were dealing with H1N1, we had no visitors. When you came sick to the hospital, regardless of your complaint, you were given a mask. Everyone in the hospital should have a mask, because you’re either vulnerable or contagious.

I guess those were the good old days when we took real precautions during an outbreak instead of downplaying it as “just like the flu.”