Keeping Healthcare Staff Safe During Coronavirus Outbreak

The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it. Millions of people in the U.S. are out of work, every state has issued school closures, and Americans are being urged to stay at home to flatten the curve. There have been various recommendations on hand-washing, coming in contact with others, and even how to prepare for travel. But through all of this uncertainty, there are some people who simply can’t stay at home. Ironically, they are perhaps the ones we depend on the most — healthcare workers. 

Our country has faced many disruptions as of late, and while it’s easy to get into the political aspects of how this outbreak is being handled, there is no denying that our healthcare workers are taking the brunt of the burden, no matter which side of the political line they may be on. 

Healthcare workers aren’t immune to COVID-19. They run the risk of exposure every day when they’re on the front lines. While the U.S. hasn’t released official data yet as to how many healthcare workers have contracted Coronavirus, we can look at how it has impacted other countries to get an idea of how dangerous the virus can truly be for those working to care for others. In Spain, 14.4% of the total cases of coronavirus were made up of healthcare staff. In Italy, over 60 doctors have died due to the disease. 

So what do healthcare workers need to stay safe in the wake of this pandemic? Should all of them be working on the frontlines with those who have already been diagnosed? How can those working to save lives keep their own wellbeing and safety at the forefront of their minds?

The Importance of Education

Healthcare staff members are highly trained when it comes to precautionary safety measures. According to the Centers for Disease Control, healthcare workers face a variety of risks on a daily basis, including: 

  • Infectious agents
  • Chemical hazards
  • Work stress
  • Exhaustion from long hours

Nurses, doctors, and other staff members are educated on how to protect themselves from certain risks, including contamination threats. Things like practicing proper handwashing/hygiene, decontaminating instruments, and avoiding cross-contamination, can all help to keep workers safe. It’s also just as important for healthcare workers to practice preventative wellness trends like staying active, eating right, and reducing stress as much as possible in order to remain strong to help others. 

But because COVID-19 is a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to shine a spotlight on harmonizing healthcare education, especially when it comes to nursing. The U.S. was already facing a shortage of doctors and nurses before coronavirus hit. 

Now, the shortage is an even bigger problem, especially in states that have been hit the hardest. Immigrants make up 17% of all healthcare workers in the U.S., so it’s important that nurses from other countries have the same standardized knowledge as nurses who went to school here and vice versa.This kind of harmonized education can help healthcare workers around the world assist one another in times of need, especially when there’s a shortage of staff or supplies. Harmonized nursing education is a movement that has been backed by the World Health Organization for years. Nursing education throughout the world would be rooted in evidence-based practices and lifelong learning. If all nurses have the same educational background, they can work anywhere. As a result, healthcare workers can get more rest, make fewer mistakes, keep their immune systems up, and reduce their stress levels because they won’t have to be so overworked. 

Remote Working When Possible

About 60-70 million Americans will work from home during the coronavirus outbreak. Remote working is nothing new. In fact, over the last 10 years, it has grown by 91% in the U.S. People working remotely in light of the current pandemic are doing so to keep themselves and others safe and to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. 

Many healthcare jobs require a physical presence, so the option to work from home isn’t typically there for doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff. But the more healthcare professionals who can work from home, the better. If a healthcare worker can effectively work remotely, they’ll reduce exposure and help to flatten the curve while staying safe, themselves. There are plenty of healthcare careers that allow for remote work: 

  • Nurse practitioners
  • Pharmacists
  • Dieticians

Doctors and nurses can also offer some remote work, thanks to advancements in telehealth technology that can allow them to speak with patients over the phone or through a video conference. 

Remote working has many benefits, including flexibility and less stress. It also has several challenges, especially in the healthcare field. It’s important to avoid distractions, set specific working hours for yourself, and find a healthy work-life balance when your work and your home are one and the same. 

The Problem With Pre-Existing Conditions

From the start, this virus has greatly impacted people with pre-existing conditions. Certain conditions can make it harder to fight off the coronavirus, including: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Active cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung diseases

The death rate for those with no pre-existing conditions is just 0.9%. Those with cardiovascular disease have a 13.2% death rate, and those with a chronic respiratory disease have a death rate of 8.0%. 

Healthcare workers aren’t immune to these conditions. Workers with respiratory conditions like asthma or those who are currently on medication for asthma could have a harder time fighting off the disease. Those on steroids for chronic illnesses are also at a greater risk of struggling with the virus, and may even be more susceptible to catching it in the first place. Like any other American worker who is immunocompromised or at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, healthcare workers need to understand their own limitations if they have an underlying condition. 

Thanks to long shifts, staff shortages, supply shortages, and new cases being diagnosed each day, the frontlines of the healthcare industry are a scary and overwhelming place to be in these uncertain times. It’s important for every worker in the medical field to take proper precautions to protect themselves, their co-workers, and their patients as the spread of this virus continues to shock the world. If more healthcare workers become ill or die, the need will become even greater, which can contribute to a vicious cycle that no one wants to have to think about for the future.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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