At Overwhelmed Harlem Hospital, Boise Nurse Says She's 'Not Delivering Nursing Excellence'
In the last days of March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a plea to doctors, nurses and other health care workers from around the country: “Please come help New York now.”
Among those who heeded the call is Jessica Schneider, a nurse from Boise, Idaho. She’s now working long days at the overwhelmed NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem in New York, where she says she does her best but cannot deliver nursing excellence.
Schneider says the hospital isn’t well-stocked with necessities, such as pulse oximeter machines for tracking oxygen saturation. Now, with COVID-19, the lack of important health care supplies nurses need is magnified tenfold — without certain items, it’s “incredibly difficult to do a good job,” she says.
Plus, the nurse-to-patient ratios at the inner-city Harlem health care facility are much higher than the country’s standard, she says.
Schneider says a typical nurse-to-patient ratio in most parts of the country 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. But because of the coronavirus and the limited number of health care workers on-site, she says some nurses at the hospital are caring for up to 12 patients at a time, with up to five sick patients crammed into a single room.
“You can’t do it. These are total care patients. They can’t get up and go to the bathroom by themselves,” she says. “I mean, it’s a mess.”
A lack of beds is plaguing the hospital, so patients lying on stretchers in the hallways have become a common occurrence, she says.
“It’s heartbreaking because they’re on these stretchers for days at a time,” she says. “There’s no beds to put them on.”
She says she isn’t sure if the lack of nursing staff and supplies, at the end of the day, is contributing to a higher death rate. But she says with certainty that the level of care just isn’t the same. In fact, she says, it’s “greatly” changed for the worse.
“We as nurses are trained for nursing excellence and I am not delivering nursing excellence,” she says. “I am getting by.”
Despite the daily tensions of working around the clock fighting a highly contagious — and deadly — virus, Schneider says her fellow nurses have been welcoming and the patients have been “thankful and lovely,” making the exhausting work hours “worth it.” While working, she says she’s witnessed acts of kindness from patients who have very little.
Nurses all across the country have convened in New York, a hotspot for the virus. Schneider says she’s met and worked with health care professionals from all over the country, including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina. She says the nurses who are normally stationed at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem have been “all hands on deck” helping fly-in nurses adjust.
“It’s awesome to see your country come together who are not part of the armed forces,” she says. “We are nurses. We are health care workers. We are so proud to come and to help.”
Back in her home state of Idaho, Republican Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide stay-at-home order. Compared to other parts of the nation, Idaho doesn’t have a huge number of COVID-19 cases — as of April 12, there were 1,426 confirmed cases. However, there are more COVID-19 cases per capita in the northwestern state than in California because the population in Idaho is considerably lower.
Republican state Rep. Heather Scott has referred to the governor’s mandate as “unconstitutional.” North Idaho’s Bonner County sheriff Daryl Wheeler also publicly pushed back against Little’s order.
Schneider says their responses are a lesson in education and lived experiences. She says people who don’t see the cases in their own neighborhoods are more likely to form opinions that contradict the facts during a crisis like this one.
“If it happens in your backyard, you’re going to be utterly devastated because it’s not just going to happen to you,” she says. “It’s going to happen to many, many people that, you know, love and care about. And one minute they will be fine and the next minute they will be dying.”
Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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