During coronavirus pandemic, nurses need leaders who advocate for them

By | 2022-10-10T14:56:59-04:00 March 17th, 2020|6 Comments

Since the first days of the coronavirus outbreak — which quickly became the coronavirus pandemic — news and information have come in faster than we can digest them.

Whether you’re a staff nurse or nurse leader, all of us are worried about what we’re hearing and what all of it means.

What we know

According to the World Health Organization the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface, causes a range of respiratory illnesses — from the common cold to pneumonia.

The WHO’s role is and always has been to protect the public — but patient safety is a responsibility shared by all of us in healthcare. We’re accountable for protecting patients from harm by making decisions that are scientifically sound, evidence-based and made in our patients’ best interests.

COVID-19 is a large issue worldwide, and it has made us face things we’ve never faced. It calls for vigilance and every form of personal and group protection anywhere people gather.

Hospital ERs filled with scared patients and worried families are at or above capacity; masks and ventilators are being ordered and manufactured in higher numbers than ever; food and cleaning supplies are disappearing from store shelves; children and their parents are being affected by school closings; social events, family celebrations, and religious services are being canceled; and thousands of companies are closing and sending employees home to work remotely.

And state governments have begun to act. In New York, for example, the governor speaks almost daily on contingency plans for more ventilators for ICU patients, additional ICU beds and additional staff.

Nurses need to have answers for patients

Nurses always have been there for their patients, and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception. But we can’t give patients what they need if we’re not knowledgeable about what’s going on.

We see on TV and social media that everyone has lots of questions, and we’re going to need some answers for them.

“How does the virus spread and who is in most danger of contracting it or succumbing to it? What supplies should I keep in my house? Must I stay quarantined? Can I get tested for the virus?”

Many of these answers are available for healthcare providers on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and they are frequently updated.

Leaders need to have answers for nurses

Leaders will get even more questions. While dealing with staff directives and providing needed manpower and supplies, leaders also must help staff understand their new roles and responsibilities. They must ensure nurses have a workplace with all the resources they need, which also comply with safety measures.

Leaders need to keep staff informed and calm fears about the coronavirus pandemic by addressing questions promptly and assuring staff they’ll have everything they need to do their jobs. The current shortage of N95 respirators is a good example.

If I still worked as a CNO I’d communicate to staff the guidelines we’ve received from the CDC and talk with them about strategies and options to deal with shortages, as outlined in the Checklist for Healthcare Facilities:  Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of N95 Respirators during the COVID-19 Response.

Ensure staff understands inventory flow and supply chain, regular vs. surge utilization rates, and that management is in communication with state and local public health partners on the issue and the steps needed to optimize the supply of other PPE for staff at the same time.

I’d also discuss the importance of proper equipment usage and maintenance. This includes fit, use and circumstances for reuse, as well as proper disposal. And I’d let staff know how to best make our supply meet the needs of our census.

Staff needs to understand how surge capacity during the coronavirus pandemic could impact how they prioritize PPE usage to conserve inventory and how being able to move from regular to crisis patient capacity could impact the plan.

Leaders need to remember how decisions to implement different measures in changing patient capacities must be made in concert with the appropriate federal, state and local agencies involved in the emergency plan.

Above all, the staff needs to feel someone in command has their backs, and nurse leaders are the ones they will look to for assurances that they’ll be safe as they care for patients.

The whole game plan should be reviewed regularly, and staff should have time to express their concerns, give their input, and discuss what they think is working and not working.

All for one, one for all

According to reports, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, so through it all we need to remember the basics at work and at home: handwashing; our use of PPE; following hospital policies and procedures; attending infection control updates; cancelling unnecessary travel and events; staying home and being evaluated at the first signs of symptoms; listening to the experts; caring for our elderly; working within community guidelines.

It’s important — now more than ever — to put politics and opinions aside during this national emergency.

Healthcare and government leaders at the federal, state and local levels are doing their best to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on everyone. We’re in the midst of an unprecedented health emergency, and others will be looking to us for information and guidance.

During the past few weeks many have said: “We’re all in this together,” and to that I add, “Together is the only way we’ll all get out of it.”

Take our new COVID-19 free CE course today:

COVID-19 coronavirus

About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Eileen was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York (now Northwell Health System) where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of their System hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in nursing administration and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. A former board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing, Eileen currently is a member of the Adelphi University, College of Nursing and Public Health Advisory Board.


  1. Avatar
    DARLENE NELSON March 19, 2020 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    There are literally 10s of thousands of nurses who could help respond. These are nurses in every state who have been subject to unjust investigations by Boards of Nursing. I speak specifically to the large number of nurses who have had retaliatory complaints, or complaints that in no way endangered patient safety.

    In Texas more than 5700 nurses are subject to career crippling board investigations a year. The BON investigates almost all, regardless of merit. Only 1500 ever result in charges. These investigations go on for 1 to 2 years. The numbers prove the majority of complaints are unfounded and could be determined as so early on.

    Board of Nursing attorney recently however, stated they do not need evidence or reasonable proof even to charge a nurse. She stated: “all i need is sufficient suspicion.” Sufficient suspicion is met by hearsay statements by the reporting agency, patient, family member or supposed witness.

    Boards nationwide overcharge nurses as they are mostly unregulated agencies that have no duty to follow State Rules or Evidence. This rogue conduct has led to severe back logs of cases keeping nurses unemployed for years. And preventing the early discovery of conduct that does place the community at risk.

    In Texas members of the legislature are concerned and advocating for change regarding Board’s behaviour admist the Covid-19 crisis.

    If all 50 states readdressed how BON carry out investigations, this would free up tens of thousands of innocent nurses who currently cannot practice. This is an emergency. We will soon desperately need these nurses. Nurses with minor, non patient harm allegations should be freed to practice. Boards should be made to adhere to State Rules Of Evidence used in criminal and civil cases so that allegations not meeting this standard are immediately dismissed. Think seriously about this. You may be the nurse who gets infected because of overwhelmed units. You may be a nurse struggling to meet the need of overwhelming numbers or it may be your family member who suffers harm because we have insufficient numbers of nurses to meet this challenge.

  2. Avatar
    Debbie Johnson March 19, 2020 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    I’m an Oklahoma retired RN. Can I take this course and obtain a certificate for CEU?

    • Sallie Jimenez
      Sallie Jimenez March 24, 2020 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Debbie,
      If you hold an RN license, you should be able to earn the certificate as usual. Our system does ask for your license number, so if your license has lapsed, this may pose a problem with obtaining the certificate. Thank you for your question.

  3. Avatar
    Robert P. Megerle March 24, 2020 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Welcome to America where medical providers rely on image to make money and staff should stay in line…..ha

  4. Avatar
    sherri April 9, 2020 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    please tell me if you know of any laws regarding school nurses in connecticut being “mandatable”? thank you, sk

  5. Avatar
    Phoebe April 14, 2020 at 5:13 am - Reply

    We are so greatful to all the nurses and doctors around the world for their dedication beyond their lives to save us.

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