Like so many of our jobs, what it is to be a nurse has changed drastically because of COVID-19. And Florida hospitals need more nurses to continue to fight the pandemic and not run out of steam, says Maggie Hansen.
Hansen represents about 5,000 nurses at Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County — as their chief nurse executive and a senior vice president. This summer Governor Ron DeSantis appointed her to the Florida Board of Nursing.
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Hansen recently talked with WLRN about the conditions nurses face every day the pandemic continues — and what they need from the public.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
WLRN: Keeping hospitals staffed during the coronavirus has been really hard, especially in south Florida. I know it depends on where you work, but what is it generally like to be a nurse right now?
HANSEN: It's very, very stressful. I know for many of the nurses out there, it's been the most stressful time in their career. Certainly it has been for me. We've been dealing with this pandemic for six months now. It seems like years already. And yet it seems like just yesterday that we were faced with the first patient and trying to figure out what to do.
What do you tell your nurses if they come to you with concerns or questions?
We do not yet have the perfect plan of action to care for a COVID-19 patient.
I think honesty is the first thing that we have to practice with our staff because, you know, they're out there feeling it. As a leader, I have to understand what they're feeling so that I can best advocate for them, so that they can advocate for the patients that they're serving.
How are nurses that you hear from coping with the intensity of this pandemic?
We had to close our doors to visitors and provide other ways for patients and families to communicate, or we had to be the family member for the patient.
I hear stories from the nurses that are telling me that they know had to provide care in situations that they just couldn't shake from their memory bank when they went home.
You know, a nurse told me the other day how she was being a family member to a patient that knew he was dying and she arranged a visitation with his wife through the iPad, which we certainly do as much as we can. And she, of course, because she had to hold that iPad for the patient that was very sick, overheard the conversation of them saying goodbye, you know.
And she said when he said, "I'll see you in heaven, honey." When she went home, seeing her own husband and her own family, it was very hard for her to shake that, you know. Story after story like that.
[Nurses are] seeing the loss of their own friends and family members that maybe are dying. They're going home and they're having to, you know, school their own children because their children can't go to school. So they don't have a lot of relief and recovery at home.
What do nurses need the most right now?
They need people to take personal responsibility.
It definitely makes them angry when they see people out in the community that are not wearing their masks or going out to bars. And they know the science. They know that the people that are asymptomatic out there that may be carriers of the virus are spreading it to many other people unknowingly. And many of those people will end up in our bed as needing our care.
And it makes them kind of feel like there's no end in sight.
I know that they need more nurses so that they can rest. Many of these nurses have been working, you know, fourth and fifth, 12-hour shifts in a week because we need them.
During this crisis, we've had to develop new roles. Just to share an example of what an [operating room] nurse would be doing that would still utilize his or her critical thinking skills would be to deploy them in the role of a PPE police officer.
What about if there are more COVID-19 surges in the fall? What's happening in preparation for that now?
We are not sure what kind of a surge we're going to have in the fall, but we do expect a surge. So we're trying to rest people right now as much as possible.
I do have to say that the nurses that are entering the workforce — that will be that workforce that cares for us when we need care — are going to know so much more about infection prevention and infection control than most of us could ever dream of knowing. Because they're working it and they're living it.