The World Health Organization designated the year 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Little did we know the impact nursing would have on the world.
The first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States, documented in Washington State, was announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 21 January 2020. Georgia’s first confirmed cases were announced by Governor Kemp on March 2, 2020.
Immediately after the confirmation of the novel cases, the Georgia Nurses Association convened our Rapid Response Task Force. We hosted our state’s Nursing Leaders on a weekly call. Zoom, an unknown platform, was quickly implemented to host our weekly calls. Zoom became our preferred platform to communicate rapidly changing information to Georgia nurses.
Soon after the pandemic started, we began to hear about Zoom “bombing” from other state nursing associations in our country. Not only were we worried about getting proper PPE to our nurses, protecting the public and mitigating the spread of a public health emergency. We now had an added stress factor to make sure our preferred method of communication was secure and free of unwanted graphic messages from uninvited guests.
Beginning 12 March 2020 our Governor signed multiple emergency orders affecting public health, nursing, education/workforce, primary education, and healthcare facilities. A statewide shelter in place order was announced on 2 April 2020. Mandatory shut down was implemented.
The fear of the unknown quickly gripped our state.
The rapid response team wanted to capitalise on our nursing reputation. For the past 19 years, in the United States, nursing has been ranked as the most trusted profession. We commissioned a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to be aired on television stations and shared on social media outlets. 'Trust a Nurse' was produced and aired on Georgia television. We were donated over three million dollars of airtime to share our message.
With schools closed, our nurses scrambled for daycare options for their children and alternative housing for their family’s protection. We partnered with Peachtree Hotels to provide reduced pricing at their 50 properties. We had over fifty nurses sign up for this partnership, at just one of their properties.
Our biggest challenge was procuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the pandemic. Like others across the globe, we were required to become creative and reuse items that were designed for single use. We surveyed our nurses and shared their concerns with the media and government agencies.
The rapid response work group hosted our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and members from the United States Congress. We expressed our concerns on PPE and workplace safety.
We knew the mental health of our nurses was a high priority. Reports of nurses dying from COVID-19 gripped our profession. We partnered with the American Red Cross and their Mental Health Disaster Relief division to provide weekly support meetings via Zoom. The Peer to Peer support provided an outlet, for nurses to talk through their concerns and solutions to a very challenging environment.
The support group morphed into the statewide Resiliency programme. Along with the peer to peer nursing support groups, we hosted resiliency training for other front-line workers. We provided training for individuals and train the trainer programmes to colleagues for expansion of the programme.
In late May 2020, the Georgia Governor began to reopen our state. Masks were recommended to be worn in public but not mandated. The Georgia Nurses Association expressed our concern about the early re-opening, to our elected officials. We feared a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions, and deaths. We quickly realised our fears after our Memorial Day Holiday. Memorial Day, in the United States, is our unofficial start of summer.
Due to cancelation of elected procedures and a decrease in admissions our healthcare systems furloughed nurses. As hot spots of the pandemic developed in other states in America, those furloughed and other nurses began to travel to those destinations.
The incentives and monetary amounts being offered were unprecedented. Bedside nurses were making 10-12 thousand dollars per week, with free room and board in other states.
The summer and early fall months showed a slowing of the spread of the disease in our state.
We were concerned and expected an increase in the number of cases with our national holidays. We celebrate Thanksgiving in late November and the religious holidays in December. All of these celebrations are with family, friends and usually held inside.
The winter spike of COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions, and deaths were higher than expected in Georgia and the USA. With Georgia nurses traveling to higher paying areas of America, our staff was stretched beyond capacity. The winter surge lasted until March 2021.
The healthcare systems in America began vaccinating staff in December 2020. Georgia had a tiered approach to vaccinations. Beginning with the elderly and people in senior living, long-term care facilities. With vaccination rates less than anticipated, the remaining public were quickly offered the vaccination.
As of this article, the state of Georgia has 42 percent of eligible citizens fully vaccinated.
As we move post-pandemic, we know our nurses will need help in many different areas. Our main concern is their mental health. We have established peer support groups to help with PTSD and substance use disorder. The nursing shortage in America is extremely dire. Georgia is ranked 4th out of 50 states as having the worst shortage. The continued staffing issues perpetuate the vicious nursing cycle; staff shortages, extra work, burn out, then leaving the profession.
As the state’s nursing association, we developed the Georgia Center for Nursing Excellence. We are recruiting nursing leaders and leaders in our community to combat the crisis. We know it is going to take an enormous effort.
One thing this pandemic has taught us, is that we are resilient and creative in finding a solution to meet the demands and wellbeing of the citizens we serve.
We must, we are our nations most trusted profession.
Richard Lamphier, RN, President of the Georgia Nurses Association (GNA)