A Highly Skilled Healthcare Workforce Could Be in Jeopardy From COVID-19

A Highly Skilled Healthcare Workforce Could Be in Jeopardy From COVID-19

December 10, 20203 min read

While all healthcare professionals have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and are essential to providing quality care, registered nurses are with patients 24/7 and provide essential, consistent surveillance, often being the first to take immediate action and alert colleagues in order to save patients.

“I cannot stress enough that it is not about beds and space, it is about having a high-quality and properly educated workforce to care for the patients in those beds and spaces,” says Donna Havens, PhD, RN, FAAN, Connelly Endowed Dean and Professor of the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, who adds that the process depends on a highly skilled workforce.

Though in some cases, because of the growing shortage across the nation during the pandemic, members of the workforce may not have the skills or experience to care for patients in the settings in which they may have been placed during the pandemic. Nurses who typically work in one particular clinical setting, e.g., pediatrics, may now be asked to provide care to adult intensive care unit (ICU) patients with very little education, if any, regarding the particulars of caring for this population. This may impact the quality of care—as well as increase distress and burnout among the workforce.

The number of hospitalized patients is growing exponentially each day, and the healthcare workforce is expressing growing concern, distress, disappointment and anger about the numerous issues and challenges within the healthcare settings—as well as in regard to the general population disregarding healthcare experts’ and scientists’ guidance to adhere to practices that will mitigate the spread of the virus. Media coverage is articulating the workforce’s dismay and their calls for help—because they are tired, burned out and facing a struggle to go to work.

While some traveling healthcare professionals, who practice by accepting assignments as temporary reinforcements across the country, were being sent to hot spots earlier in the pandemic, there are so many hot spots across the country today that this may no longer be a solution to ameliorate the shortage of quality care providers.

Havens and colleagues at Villanova’s M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing launched a national 20-year study in May—the CHAMPS study—to explore the emotional and physical wellbeing of the healthcare workforce and those who support care. Their early findings document high levels of depression, stress and sleep issues. “Not only is the healthcare workforce growing tired, distressed and burned out, but many are also becoming ill themselves—many dying of COVID-19. This is demoralizing and severely impacts the number available to provide care. Some of the respondents from the CHAMPS study describe caring for healthcare colleagues who died from COVID while they were caring for them.”

The World Health Organization designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and 2020 is also the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, who founded the nursing profession. “How ironic that during this time, nurses find themselves working in surge hospitals in tents, basketball arenas, parking garages and so forth, just as Nightingale’s early career was spent implementing processes to improve sanitation and hygiene,” says Havens.

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