The Massachusetts Nurses Association has called on Gov. Charlie Baker to declare a state of emergency as hospitals struggle to deal with the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients.
The MNA requested the state of emergency to last through the end of March, according to a Jan. 20 letter on behalf of the group. Other requests include expediting nurse licenses, issuing single-use N95 masks to all staff interacting with patients, implementing onsite testing and booster shots and increasing the use of the National Guard, according to the letter.
Katie Murphy, a registered nurse and president of the MNA, who wrote the letter, said the healthcare industry isn’t doing enough to support frontline workers.
“There have to be some standards, some interventions put in place in healthcare right now,” Murphy said in an interview. “And we want to give the governor the tools to be able to do that quickly and nimbly since the industry is not doing that right now.”
Jarone Lee, medical director of the Blake 12 Intensive Care Unit and an emergency medical specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that by supporting nurses, the healthcare system will benefit as a whole and bed spaces will free up for patients in need.
“Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system. If we don’t support them in a way that’s reasonable I do think that it’s going to make it very tough,” Lee said. “Since it’s so busy with both COVID patients and non COVID patients, we need those hospital beds open so that we can continue taking care of patients across the state.”
Lee added that hospitals have also been struggling due to supply chain shortages for necessary equipment to care for COVID-19 patients such as Personal Protective Equipment, ventilators and drugs.
“The one shortage that is causing more issues right now is the blood shortage,” Lee said. “Our [hospital] staff is donating blood ourselves to try to maintain our supply.”
Paul Beninger, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University, said the nurses association’s requests are “very reasonable.”
“We’re, in a lot of ways, still functioning as if we’re not in a pandemic,” Beninger said. “There is a list of things that [the MNA] suggested which, quite frankly, should have been in place a long time ago.”
In addition to equipment shortages, hospitals are also experiencing a shortage in personnel, with Murphy stating that people are now “burnt out” because of the situation.
“I can’t tell you how many times I work at night that we don’t have enough nurses, and that if a patient does have to travel up the unit for a test, there are no transport people,” Murphy said. “So it’s very dire, and this is across the Commonwealth, and it’s across the whole country.”
She believed that nurses have not been included in the conversation of how to manage the pandemic as much as they should have.
“Our voices have to be heard,” she said. “You have to listen to the specialists, the experts, if you want realistic, authentic planning.”
Meanwhile, Beninger said the stress that the infrastructure of the healthcare system is under right now is contributing to the state of the pandemic.
“We’re so deep into this pandemic that I think there’s an opportunity for us to do more than what we have done,” Beninger said. “We need to sit down and think about better ways to get things done and I think this nursing [push] is a great place to start.”