Battle-Weary Nurses Ask Whether Another Coronavirus Surge Can Be Treated By New York Hospitals
In the first outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, no U.S. city suffered more than New York City. There more than 24,000 people died, mostly in the spring. When hospitals are exhausted and now they are bracing themselves as pathogens tend to rise again, medical staff in New York have discovered about how rough and risky it can be.
Public health officials and health care professionals are monitoring the trend lines warily around the New York City metropolitan area. As intensive care facilities fill up in other areas of the U.S. and around the globe. They say it gives them flashbacks to last spring, when emergency sirens were pervasive and the area was the coronavirus epicenter of the world.
There is general consensus that today clinics and medical providers are in far better condition than before. Because there is more scientific awareness of the illness and how to cope with it; greater supplies of personal protection equipment; and much more widespread research.
Around the same time, though many front-line staff are nervous about hospital preparedness, and many in health care are more pessimistic about the efficacy of the city’s monitoring and tracing infrastructure than public officials.
The head of emergency preparedness for New York City Health and Hospitals, Dr. Laura Iavicoli, said that he thinks there is a lot of fear for a second time doing this. It’s the country’s biggest public hospital system, with 11 hospitals and hundreds of clinics. Iavicoli also serves in one of the system’s hospitals as an emergency room doctor.
“They will rally, because I know them,” she says. “I’ve worked with them for 20 years, and they’re the most amazing people I can possibly speak of, but there’s anxiety and there’s COVID fatigue.”
Some of the hospitals in the system are at peak. But Iavicoli immediately adds that she is not talking about “COVID capacity,” meaning for COVID-19 patients, the beds and newly reconfigured spillover rooms. Instead in order to make room for an anticipated influx of COVID patients, two of the network’s 11 hospitals had to move ICU patients to other hospitals.
Iavicoli says that to give them COVID capacity, they are doing a bit of redistributing across the system, but it is really manageable within the system. The rise in the flu season is undoubtedly usual, but given that we have just reached the second wave [of COVID-19] and anticipating what is to come, we are a little more aware than normal to ensure that we leave room in all our facilities.
‘We’re afraid we’re going to have to go through this again’
However many nurses feel unprepared for a fresh influx in patients with COVID, claiming that their hospital managers have not done enough to incorporate the lessons learned in March-April.
Gonzales is currently a union leader for the Association of State Nurses of New York (NYSNA).
Usually, nurses in her community treat one or two patients in the intensive care unit at a time. But now she admits she needs to manage three, even when the number of COVID-19 patients is slipping up again. It was normal for one nurse to be in care of four or five patients at the height of the pandemic surge last spring. Gonzales says, and that’s daunting. If one patient collapses, several nurses need to converge at once, leaving other patients unmonitored.
They and local elected officials requested that managers expand hiring in Montefiore and other hospitals in the network.
Then from Montefiore to a local graveyard, a phalanx of nurses marched, bearing floral wreaths for fallen comrades. When the Saints Go Marching In”When the Saints Go Marching In”Amazing Grace,”Amazing Grace.”
A union spokesperson, Kristi Barnes, reports that Montefiore has 476 nursing vacancies by its own reckoning. A figure that has grown by almost 100 since 2019.
Barnes says that the management does not meet its obligation to fill vacancies and recruit nurses. He added that they have 188 full-time nursing positions that they have not yet advertised as of last week. But there is no chance to fill them.
The government in Montefiore disagrees
As several healthcare systems, Montefiore relies extensively on temporary service companies to include “traveling nurses.” Hospitals are planning to employ visiting nurses again. But there is interest around the country for them now.
On Tuesday, NYSNA led a two-day strike at Montefiore New Rochelle.
Iavicoli reports that each of the network’s 11 hospitals has now sent their individual hiring requests to system administrators at NYC Health and Hospitals. So that they can put a preliminary order for nurse staffing agencies.
Health planners expect that this time, New Yorkers will not pour into emergency rooms. Compared to other regions they point to the moderate increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two months. Testing, which is one of the factors they hope would keep the curve reasonably smooth.