If nurses are essential why are they being treated this way?

nurseWe’ve heard a lot lately about how America is finally learning who’s really essential now that we’re deep in a real crisis. I even chipped in. But are we treating our essential workers with the care and respect we should be?

I have a good friend who works in an emergency department in a mid-sized Midwestern city hospital as well as two nearby ERs in smaller cities and one community clinic. So four facilities and the issues she reports are the same in each. Let’s call her K.

K and I were trading messages today and apparently things aren’t rosy on the ground there. I won’t share the whole exchange, but here are some key points.

I work 24 hour shifts so I only have to go to work 6 days a month. But I can tell you it’s no joke. We don’t have the PPE [personal protective equipment] we should despite what you may hear. For the whole hospital we have about 150 surgical masks left and those don’t do s*** for anything! We’re given one mask to wear for the entire day. Goes against every infection-control thing we were ever taught. It’s like what we’ve heard about in developing countries all these years where they reuse masks and wash the gloves.

Obviously this is disturbing news to hear from a friend who’s “on the front lines.” I asked if any of her colleagues have contracted COVID.

Yep. One of the ER nurses and also his wife, who’s one of our flight nurses. And another frontline ER nurse. All three were hospitalized but have been released…

At least the hospital is doing what they can, though, right? Here K is started getting a little heated.

They’ve basically told us to f*** off and quit complaining.

They told us that if we can prove with 100% certainty that we became infected with the virus at work then we can file for workers’ comp. But if we can’t prove that we became infected at work then we’re on our own.

We aren’t essential, we’re expendable.

The conversation continued for a while, and you get the idea.

I’m not sure what to add here. I’m glad so many of us have realized what people like my friend mean to our society, but…

It’s like how I describe the career world generally. Companies love to talk about how much they value their people, but their actions – hiring practices, compensation, layoffs, and so on – belie the claim.

The don’t value you. They appreciate you. Which is different. Appreciation is a friendly pat on the back that costs nothing. Value is measurable.

It sounds like America really appreciates its medical professionals. And why not – they go to work and risk their lives despite the kind of treatment K reports. But until we make their workplaces safe and treat them – in all ways – with the respect their commitment deserves, we don’t really value a damn thing, do we?

Disgusted yet?

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