Vote like your life depends on it. For many, this isn’t just a rousing call to action—it’s real life. In this series, people from different jobs, backgrounds, and viewpoints share the impact this election will have on them, and the exact reason they’re voting in 2020. Because politics and wellness can’t be separated, especially this year.
For the past six years, I’ve worked as a critical care registered nurse, caring for people with serious medical problems that require intensive monitoring and treatment. I chose this specialty because I loved helping patients and their families get through the toughest moments of their lives. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see a patient you think would never make it out of the hospital alive beat all the odds.
This spring, my job shifted substantially due to the pandemic. I began to care for many patients suffering from COVID-19. My colleagues and I were hailed as “heroes” by patients, caregivers, government officials, and the general public—who proclaimed their appreciation for the service we delivered by showering us with unprecedented recognition, gifts, and food.
Despite being grateful for the accolades, I couldn’t ignore the burnout I was facing. According to a survey released in April 2020, 62 percent of nurses said they were likely to leave their current position or specialty due to the pandemic. I am not surprised by this statistic at all—because I am one of the 62 percent.
How the pandemic made nurses’ lives harder
Since the beginning of the pandemic, news outlets have actively reported on nurse protests against nursing staffing levels and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). These ongoing problems have made it harder—and honestly, less safe—for nurses like me to do our jobs.
For one thing, there are still reports of health-care workers struggling to get adequate PPE, despite being nearly eight months into the pandemic. This means many nurses are caring for COVID-19 patients unprotected. I was not comfortable reusing the same N-95 mask for weeks at a time or the same gown to care for different COVID-19 patients throughout my shift. These practices were put in place to preserve limited supplies, but this also places nurses like me at risk of becoming infected and spreading the virus to our families.
I feared going to work because I did not feel protected on the job.
The nurse shortage—a long-standing problem in health care—has been exacerbated by the pandemic. There already aren’t enough nurses to meet the growing needs of our health-care system, which means that fewer nurses are expected to do more work. As COVID-19 has strained our health-care system, the workload has gotten even greater. It doesn’t help that most places don’t have mandated patient-nurse ratios to manage nurses’ workloads. While working as an intensive care nurse in Georgia, I was sometimes given three patients at once. This might not seem like much, but the workload created by an additional critically-ill patient often meant that I had to work through my break and meal times in order to ensure my patients were taken care of.
All of these factors have accelerated nurse burnout during COVID-19, including my own. I reached my breaking point in June, when I realized that I feared going to work because I did not feel protected on the job. I decided to leave the critical care field and work in surgical services, where I would have less exposure to the novel coronavirus.
The federal government has failed health-care workers
The pandemic didn’t have to play out this way. I believe the fault lies mainly with the federal government’s mismanagement of the pandemic. From the start, hospitals were left with a limited supply of PPE to protect health-care workers. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided confusing and conflicting guidance to health-care workers on how to protect ourselves from this novel virus.
It doesn’t help that Congress has continued to delay passing another stimulus bill that would provide more support to front-line health-care workers like me. The CARES Act from March—which included billions of dollars for hospitals and medical supplies—expired at the end of July. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the HEROES Act, which included extra pay for front-line health-care workers. But this bill has been stalled in the Senate ever since (with Democrats and Republicans arguing over the scope and cost of the bill) and some experts now think it’s unlikely that something will pass before the election on November 3.
In my opinion, the Senate’s failure to pass the original HEROES Act indicates that our current government does not consider the well-being of front-line workers. Despite the countless nurse protests, it appears that the government hears our anger, but doesn’t truly listen to our needs.
What the election means for nurses like me
I’m happier after switching specialties. But I’m paying close attention to the elections because I know it affects all nurses nationwide, regardless of specialty. My decision to stay in this profession depends on how the next administration prioritizes the well-being of patients and the providers who care for them.
I will be voting in the 2020 U.S. presidential election because I want the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be expanded so Americans will have greater access to affordable health care—during the pandemic and beyond. People shouldn’t have to wait until they’re critically sick to receive medical care, which only increases health-care disparities, strains the health-care system, and puts even more pressure on nurses and other health-care workers. The potential repeal of the ACA, especially during the pandemic, would be detrimental, especially for people with pre-existing health conditions that increase their risk for serious COVID-19 illness.
I’m also heading to the polls with the hope that the next administration will implement nationwide staffing standards and hazard pay for nurses so that we are better able to provide safe, quality medical care during times of increased risk, such as this pandemic. I would also like the next administration to increase funding for nursing programs and educators, so more nurses can enter the workforce.
Despite the countless nurse protests, it appears that the government hears our anger, but doesn’t truly listen to our needs.
Although neither candidate has said how they will specifically fix the nursing shortage, the Democratic Party has given some insight into their plan to improve health-care workers’ quality of life. For instance, Vice President Joe Biden seeks to ensure health-care workers have “family-sustaining wages” as well as “the access to join a nursing union” so that nurses can collectively bargain for labor-related rights. He has also made it clear that he plans to protect and expand the ACA.
In contrast, President Donald Trump hasn’t released any specific post-election plans for health-care workers. He has also been open about his intention to overturn the ACA—something his administration will argue before the Supreme Court right after the election. This move would leave over 20 million people without health insurance. For this reason, I’m concerned that the nursing workforce will continue to struggle if he is re-elected.
America needs nurses like me, both during the pandemic and afterward. People are generally living longer, and are more at risk of developing chronic conditions that require more care. We’re vital to the well-being of this nation’s people—yet we continue to feel overworked, unsupported, and burned out. But if nurses leave their fields in an effort to improve their own quality of life, who will take care of patients?
I hope the president elected this year will consider this question to produce positive results for nurses and their patients.
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