Making 2020 the Year of the Nurse

In recognition of their essential work during the Covid-19 outbreak, 2020 has been declared the Year of the Nurse.

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President Trump Welcomes Heath Care and Nursing Association Representatives to the White House. President Donald J. Trump is joined by health care and nursing association representatives, from left to right-Dr. Ernest Grant, Lisa Barlow, Caroline Few Elliot, Luke Adams, Marty Blankenship, Allen Zelno, Sophia Thomas and Maria Arvonio, to the Oval Office as he signs a proclamation in honor of National Nurses Day Wednesday, May 6, 2020, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

They’re scared, too.

And unlike most of us, the nurses, doctors and other medical professionals on the frontlines of Covid-19 have likely already witnessed firsthand what happens to someone fighting a hard battle against coronavirus.

They have also seen people lose that fight.

Some nurses and medical professionals have answered the urgent calls of overtaxed hospitals in Covid-19 hotspots; they have risked arduous travel, navigated life in strange cities far from their homes. They have left their own families for weeks at a time.

“It’s scary. I had a lady look up to me last night and ask me ‘am I going to die?’ You stop and assure and you can’t promise her but [you say] ‘we’re doing everything. We’re okay.’ It’s hard but that’s why we’re nurses. This virus is unique and unlike anything I've ever seen.” — Nurse Gena Gillespie, an RN from Florida who helped in Boston during the crisis.

They have risked their own health- often coming down with Covid-19 themselves. It has cost some their lives.

For nurses and hospital staff who have remained close to home while working during the Covid-19 outbreak, there have been other challenges.

Many have set-up long, intense decontamination routines to help them transition from work to home without bringing the risk of infection with them. In hastily set-up bio-hazard zones; in garage safe-areas and modified tool sheds, nurses, doctors and other medical personnel have transferred work clothes into bags for immediate washing and have themselves stepped into makeshift showers to remove all potential traces of virus.

It hasn’t always been enough.

Many have been working in medical professions with the added burden of financially breadwinning for other family members who have lost their incomes during the Covid-19 crisis.

Some nurses, doctors and medical staff have continued to work even after watching loved ones, older relatives or friends succumb.

Some nurses have endured anxious waits through bouts of Covid-19 testing, testing, testing; even as their parents and grandparents have slowly but surely fallen ill. Many have recovered; some haven’t.

Worse, like everyone else with loved ones suffering from Covid-19, medical professionals haven’t even been able to care for their nearest and dearest throughout this crisis.

Instead, they’ve cared for us.

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President Trump Welcomes Heath Care and Nursing Association Representatives to the White House. President Donald J. Trump is joined by health care and nursing association representatives as he signs a proclamation in honor of National Nurses Day Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

It is with the worst of Covid-19 still fresh in our minds, and hopefully behind us, that we turn our attention away from what has gone wrong during the crisis to focus on what went right.

In America and around the world our consummate medical professionals, our nurses and and our doctors, never wavered in their commitment to public health and to their patients.

Instead, they remained stalwart at their posts. Even when early scientific models predicted 2.2 million Americans might die, an army of U.S. medical professionals did not flinch away from a hard duty.

They rose, instead, as the occasion demanded, and for that they deserve our everlasting gratitude.

And so much more.

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President Donald J. Trump listens as Samaritan’s Purse Pastor and nurse Brittany Akinsola delivers remarks during the White House National Day of Prayer Thursday, May 7, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Medical professionals need more than kudos; they need reliable protective gear and equipment to continue to work safely and effectively. And they deserve financial compensation for a job well-done.

As of May 5, FEMA, HHS and private sector corporations have cooperated to ship and deliver 75.1 million N95 respirators; 120.2 million surgical masks; 7.5 million face-shields; 19.3 million surgical gowns; 947.7 million gloves; 10,663 ventilators; and 8,450 federal medical staff.

For their part, lawmakers in Washington are currently working on a number of proposals to financially compensate medical professionals who have worked so diligently during the crisis.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed the federal government issue 50% bonuses to medical professionals working in the front-lines during the outbreak.

“Essential public workers are the ones on the front lines every day carrying us through this crisis. We must ensure their efforts and sacrifice are appropriately recognized.”

“I am calling on the federal government to provide hazard pay to these frontline workers and give them a 50% bonus because they are the true heroes in this crisis.”— Gov. Andrew Cuomo

There are are efforts underway to help medical professionals working during this crisis defray or forgive outstanding medical or nursing school debts. Plenty of Americans are in favor of this plan; over 500,000 recently signed a MoveOn petition asking legislators to include medical student loan forgiveness in the next stimulus bill.

In answer, the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act was introduced this week by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). It aims to forgive all federal student loans for Covid-19 medical responders, including scientists and researchers working behind the scenes to find a cure or vaccine.

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been very vocal about the need to include financial provisions for essential medical workers in the next economic relief package, calling it “one of our very highest priorities.”

While details about how frontline medical workers will be compensated are still being discussed at the highest levels, Senate Democrats have proposed the Pandemic Premium Pay Fund.

This fund would compensate front-line medical professionals between $5,000 to $25,000 in “premium pay” for their work during the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak.

These efforts to support our most essential workers are laudable. But they are only the beginning.

While this week, May 6 through the 12, has been officially recognized as Nurses Week, the World Health Organization and the American Nurses Association has designated all of 2020 the Year of the Nurse.

“The nurses out there are not just providing healthcare, they’re providing emotional and mental care.” — Nurse Maria Philipps, Yardley Pennsylvania

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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