Health care workers: We’re traumatized and feel abandoned - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Health care workers: We’re traumatized and feel abandoned

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By Debbie White, Guest Columnist

January 9, 2022

As health care workers begin to see their hospitals becoming overwhelmed from this omicron surge, a surge that rivals that first terrible spike of March, April and May of 2020, they are feeling a terrifying sense of deja-vu. Once again, health care workers are feeling abandoned by the very people who should be supportive of them.

Two years into this pandemic, no longer are we hailing the health care workers, thanking them for the important work they do. Do we just assume that they can manage the skyrocketing number of COVID-positive patients being hospitalized?

Here is the reality of the situation: our nurses and other health care workers have been traumatized by this pandemic. Many have signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They’re exhausted and frustrated. Many were themselves infected, some with long-lasting side effects. Some died. With this new variant, we are seeing large numbers of our health care workers infected and ill.

Unfortunately, the safety measures that helped flatten 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 severe disease requiring hospitalization.

The reason for slowing transmission, aka “flattening the curve” is to protect the system. This will ensure that there are staff and hospital beds available when patients with more severe illnesses are admitted.

A simple mandatory indoor masking mandate across New Jersey could have helped limit disease transmission at the beginning of December when the cases first appeared in our state. That never happened, though some municipalities implemented masking mandates after cases increased in their area. We give these leaders kudos.

To make matters worse, many nurses and other health care workers have already resigned from their hospital jobs because the environment is not worth the risk. What was already a critical shortage of bedside caregivers has become a staffing crisis in our hospitals. Health care workers feel expendable, 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 both workers and citizens, completely abandon the people they serve. The rollbacks of quarantine periods from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) do not make sense. In fact, it can lead to even more exposure and increased hospitalizations.

Workers, believing they are no longer contagious, may prematurely return to work only to infect many more. Finally, employers are using this shorter quarantine to demand that sick workers return to work, perhaps while still sick and contagious.

In addition, the elimination of the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for health care from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will once again allow a free-for-all in our hospitals, giving hospital administrations a pass when they don’t follow the pandemic safety measures mandated by the ETS. The ETS should have stayed in effect until a permanent COVID standard superseded it.

The sudden announcements, made by the CDC and OSHA during one of the worst surges since the beginning of the pandemic, not only seem senseless, but they show a complete disregard for our health care workers and the health care system.

It is no wonder that health care workers feel abandoned by OSHA, by the CDC, employers, and by state and federal governments. These exhausted workers are diligently struggling to continue to provide care during yet another surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as they care for a sick and suffering public, who is caring for them?

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