In a Moment of Crisis, Healthcare Workers Have Always Been There For Us.
By: Hannah Metwally, Chloe Wilson, & Kendall Dean
This is not the first time that healthcare workers’ lives have been turned upside. In the wake of catastrophic events, healthcare workers have been the ones to restore normalcy back into their communities. By tirelessly providing care to those in need, healthcare workers were able to revitalize hurt people through strengthening their mental and physical health. But how have these events impacted healthcare workers? Even though most of us consider healthcare workers to be superheroes, they are human too. These catastrophic events may alter their wellbeing, potentially even more so than the general public due to seeing these events unfold firsthand. Let’s see what past research has found...
In 2005, the United States witnessed an event that jolted the public. Nearly 2,000 lives were lost during Hurricane Katrina, as it was one of the worst natural disasters to have occurred in the country. In an instant, millions were without basic necessities, such as food, water, or shelter. Responding to this crisis was challenging. Hopitals had been damaged, and healthcare workers were put in a complicated position. Not only did they fear for their own lives as the hospitals flooded, but also their patients’ lives. Their ability to treat their patients diminished with the destruction of medical supplies and equipment. Additionally, the intensity of the hurricane was underestimated, and thus, the healthcare system was not ready for the mass influx of patients that rushed into the hospital. A healthcare worker articulated this lack of preparedness by stating, “I saw panic set in real fast as the neighborhood [people] came inside the building, and all of a sudden we went from...I don’t know...from 300 to 500 to 600 people in the hospital... and that’s when you started to think, something’s wrong.” Because there was no emergency plan for a disaster of such scale, healthcare workers often found themselves doing tasks that they would never normally do. These tasks could be emotionally triggering, as described by this healthcare worker who stated, “we had two deaths…that bothered me a lot because we took 1 body across the street to the garage and left it there, because our morgue was in the basement, and it was flooded, and I thought, my God, here it is, somebody’s family member.” Despite having to endure several obstacles, healthcare workers still felt a strong desire to serve those in need. In a study examining the experiences of certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), all reported that they felt it was part of their duty to assist in this crisis.
In 2009, healthcare workers were bombarded with yet another crisis. The H1N1 influenza virus, also known as the “swine flu,” began in the United States but quickly spread to other parts of the world, deeming it a global pandemic. By the next year, over 60 million had been diagnosed with this new virus and potentially up to 500,000 people died as a result. Despite the large number of people infected and the risk of contracting the virus themselves, most of the healthcare workers during this time continued to practice in their respected fields, a similar emotion shared by the healthcare workers who experienced Hurricane Katrina. Many felt obligated to work, as they did not want to abandon their colleagues and patients simply because of a crisis. One healthcare worker expressed this sentiment, saying, “...you don’t just work when the sun’s shining” in response to the question of whether or not they would continue performing their usual duties. Several healthcare workers felt morally uncomfortable with the thought of not working in a moment where they are needed the most. However, these healthcare workers were not worriless. One concern was the fear of jeopardizing loved ones’ wellbeing, as voiced by this healthcare worker who explained, “well it’s not me I’m worried about, it’s taking it home to my children.” Another aspect that influenced healthcare workers’ attitudes on continuing to practice in a pandemic was the rapport between employers and their employees. Some healthcare workers believed to be underappreciated if their efforts were not met with appropriate safety measures or training in place.
Past research has revealed that these catastrophic events do impact healthcare workers’ physical and emotional wellbeing. While most healthcare workers feel a sense of responsibility to serve during these events, they also have concerns regarding not only their own safety but also the safety of their loved ones and patients. The goal of Project COPE is to take what we have learned from previous crises and give healthcare workers a voice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our study also strives to improve upon past research by having a larger and more diverse participant pool. Most of these studies have examined the impact of these events on one profession or field, whereas Project COPE aims to examine the impact of COVID-19 on all healthcare workers. We want to capture the unique experiences of those on the frontlines. This includes those considered “essential,” such as physicians, nurses, and EMTs, but also those considered as “non-essential,” including as optometrists, dentists, and massage therapists. Further, past studies have usually analyzed the effects after the event has happened while Project COPE is analyzing these effects while the event is happening. The longitudinal component of our study will allow us to observe any changes that may have occurred during the event, as well as give us the opportunity to compare the different stages of the pandemic. We want to give our appreciation to our healthcare heroes by letting them share their stories. We hope that our research helps lead to a better healthcare worker experience when we face crises in the future.
CDC. (N.D.). 2009 H1N1 Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html
Geisz-Everson, M., Dodd-McCUe, D., & Bennett, M. (2012). Shared Experiences of CRNAs Who Were on Duty in New Orleans During Hurricane Katrina. AANA, 80(3), 205-211. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marsha_Bennett/publication/230590593_Shared_experiences_of_CRNAs_who_were_on_duty_in_New_Orleans_during_Hurricane_Katrina/links/57050c8508ae74a08e270eef/Shared-experiences-of-CRNAs-who-were-on-duty-in-New-Orleans-during-Hurricane-Katrina.pdf
Ives, J., Greenfield, S., Parry, J.M. et al. (2009). Healthcare workers' Attitudes to Working During Pandemic Influenza: A Qualitative Study. BMC Public Health, 9(56). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-9-56
Zimmermann, K.A. (2015). Katrina: Facts, Damage, & Aftermath. Live Science. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/22522-hurricane-katrina-facts.html