This year’s Nurses Week may be remembered for what didn’t happen.
For nursing, this was to be a year of celebration, of bringing attention to the vital role nurses play as the largest group of health professionals, providing most of the health care to the world. There were commemorative events planned for May 12 to mark the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale and in October an international conference to end a year of highlighting nurses and the nursing profession. In the United States, the American Nurses Association (ANA) changed the annual May Nurses Week to Nurses Month. AJN planned several articles and covers throughout the year, including this issue’s guest editorial on the first-ever State of the World’s Nursing report.
COVID-19 has focused worldwide attention on the vital importance of nursing.
While in-person events have all been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, what has not been lost is the attention to what nurses do and their courage and commitment to provide care to all who need it. And as with colleagues who performed their duties in other pandemics, combat zones, and life-threatening disasters, nurses today have not flinched in the face of great personal risk. I’m in awe of nurses who traveled from around the country to help augment exhausted staff in cities overwhelmed by patients with COVID-19.
Praise is no substitute for adequate PPE and fair compensation.
Nurses are being lauded among the heroes of this pandemic, and indeed they are—but that’s not enough. As Alexandra Petri writes in the Washington Post about air force flyovers to thank essential workers:
“There go the planes again! We will give you everything except PPE [personal protective equipment], and we will offer you all the thanks in the world but an increase in compensation. We will spare no expense except that which might be incurred in requiring a safer workplace…”
Nurses should not be expected to regularly risk their lives to save others.
We’ve documented on this blog (see the special COVID-19 page) the risks and fear from scarce PPE and the erosion of infection prevention standards that began during the initial surge of patients and yet continues today. I’m at a loss to understand why, after almost two months, other countries can provide head-to-toe PPE and US nurses are still cobbling together supplies that don’t meet evidence-based standards.
Yet this administration crows about its “spectacular job” in managing the crisis. What would really be spectacular is ensuring those on the front line have the best PPE available to avoid becoming another grim statistic. We hear daily about more nurses and physicians who have been infected or died.
As I write in my editor’s note in the May issue of AJN:
“Nurses, physicians, and many other health care workers—and ultimately all of us—are suffering the consequences of archaic and misplaced funding priorities that ignored science and dismissed warnings from experts. Perhaps things will change after this, and we will be ready the next time. I hope so.”
In honor of the work nurses do, pandemic or no pandemic, our entire May issue will be free until May 16.