Commentary: Healthcare Workers Need Biden in Charge

The public health crisis has challenged NC's already stretched health care system. (Image via Tempura/GettyImages.)

By peggywilmoth, Elaine Scherer

November 3, 2020

The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster, these two experienced NC nurses say. 

As nurses, we are taught to scientifically evaluate our communities and individual patients to determine their health status.  

Ironically in this year of a pandemic, the World Health Organization also named 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” with the head of the international health organization calling nurses ““the backbone of every health system.”

Here in the United States, we face the most consequential presidential election our nation has ever faced and we as nurses must stand up and have our voices heard. 

We have witnessed first hand the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our communities and our colleagues with more than 231,000 Americans dead from the disease as of Monday. 

As a state, we have seen our numbers increasing in the past few weeks as restrictions on activity have been reduced, now ranking the state among the top 10 states with the biggest growth in cases.

We now have nearly 280,000 cases with 4,390 deaths in the state. We’re seeing records set with a steady stream of days topping 2,000 new cases, staggering statistics. 

Rural Hospitals May Not Survive

As nurses we know only too well the impact on the health systems these numbers generate given 30% of the state’s rural hospitals are vulnerable to closure. North Carolina is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid, further putting the rural safety net under pressure. Those in the rural parts of our state are very vulnerable to losing access to care when they need it the most.

According to the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents the state’s hospital, our state has the ability to flex up to 3,514 licensed ICU beds around the state with a plan for a 25%-50% surge capacity according to Rose Hoban, founder and editor of NC Health News.  

But who is going to staff these beds? North Carolina is one of the most vulnerable states when it comes to a shortage of nurses, including intensive care nurses. Are there enough nurses with the proper training in intensive care? Will there be enough protective gear for these nurses and others? 

READ MORE: NC Facing Highest COVID-19 Numbers Yet

The American Nurses Association recently surveyed 21,503 nurses this summer during a relative lull in the numbers of new virus cases. The findings were disheartening.  Almost half of the nurses reported they had experienced widespread or intermittent personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and over half were re-using N-95 respiratory masks for five or more days. Over half said that re-use was a policy at their health facility.  

Re-use increases the chances of cross-contamination, putting nurses’ lives in danger. While actual infections and deaths of nurses and other healthcare staff is difficult to quantify, it appears that over 1,700 healthcare workers have died from COVID 19. This is at a time when we can least afford losing these essential healthcare providers. 

We as nurses know that there was a lost opportunity by the Trump administration to increase domestic production of PPE. 

Passage of the federal Medical Supply Emergency Act of 2020 and expanded investment in testing and public health infrastructure could and would enhance our abilities to protect health care workers and our communities, but Congress hasn’t passed it.  We also know that prevention, using a comprehensive public health approach, would have saved thousands of lives.

A Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration will provide the critical leadership essential to healing our nation from the strains of this pandemic.  We urge you to vote for a change Nov. 3. 


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