The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched the entire healthcare system to its limits, causing tremendous stress for frontline workers. This article examines significant areas of impact.
The financial impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system and its workers is immense. With organizations exploring strategies to remain financially solvent, many are implementing a hiring freeze in addition to suspending incentive pay, bonuses and merit increases for 2021.
Some may continue to have rounds of furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts. Positions remain open during furloughs, but the nurses do not receive pay for the 8-12 weeks they are absent. Of course, if the employee has paid time off (PTO), they can take it, but that often does not cover the entire leave.
Rural area hospitals continue to close, and many others are at risk. Nurses in rural areas are left with few employment options and often no pay. For some nurses, particularly those belonging to a union, the pandemic means more pay and expanding opportunities. Most importantly, unions help create a collective voice. They give nurses the opportunity to speak up about inconsistent guidelines, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), inadequate staffing and other safety concerns.
Gaps in staffing are often covered by travel nurses, who provide a short-term solution. They are in high demand to address the spikes in COVID-19 cases. Travel nurses are also replacing frontline nurses who are in quarantine, recovering from the virus or are designated COVID-19 survivors.
Long shifts that blur together, indistinguishable days and sleepless nights are common for nurses during the pandemic. But it also fosters collegiality and solidarity. For example, over 23,000 nurses signed up to volunteer in New York as the pandemic surged. Thousands more traveled to California last summer. Nurses continue to make sacrifices for patient care, often leaving their loved ones behind. Nurses from all care environments are cross-training to cover critical areas. Specialty nurses, like wound care, radiology and rehab nurses, are transitioning to bedside care.
But their impact isn't limited to nursing practice alone. Nurses check on one another and their neighbors. They rally to boost morale. Frontline nurses fill backpacks with extra scrubs and clothes in case they or a fellow nurse cannot return home due to exposure. Nurses are also stepping up in their communities, volunteering at food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other organizations.
Nurses are exploring ways to remain strong while facing adversity and implementing more self-care measures to build resilience. Many are turning to deep breathing, meditation or power walks during breaks.
COVID-19 is highlighting the nursing shortage and the need for quality and safety standards. It has created new opportunities in telehealth, remote positions and new roles in community and public health.
As the pandemic continues to redefine the healthcare landscape, nurses remain at the forefront of that transformation. As caregivers, advocates and change agents, nurses and nurse leaders ensure patient safety and outcomes, continuously assessing future healthcare needs. Nurse leaders will influence the innovation, care structure and policy change that must occur as the country transitions into post-pandemic healthcare.
Nurses can augment their leadership and management skills by completing the coursework in Texas A&M International University's online Master of Science in Nursing – Nursing Administration program. The 100% online program gives working nurses a convenient way to add a degree that will help enhance their influence by building transformational leadership skills.
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