As nurses grapple with burnout and staffing shortages, new guidance has them fearing for their own health

As nurses grapple with burnout and staffing shortages, new guidance has them fearing for their own health

New guidance on chest compressions for COVID-19 patients instructs nurses to give them with urgency. The guidance instructs nurses to act quickly — even if they haven’t yet put on protective equipment. A petition condemning the guidelines has amassed more than 11,000 signatures in two weeks. Loading Something is loading. In late December, nurses began…

  • New guidance on chest compressions for COVID-19 patients instructs nurses to give them with urgency.
  • The guidance instructs nurses to act quickly — even if they haven’t yet put on protective equipment.
  • A petition condemning the guidelines has amassed more than 11,000 signatures in two weeks.

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In late December, nurses began filling TikTok, Reddit, and Twitter with exasperated comments about recent updates the American Heart Association made to its CPR guidelines.

When nurses need to administer CPR to patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, the updated guidance now instructs them to provide chest compressions without delay or interruption, even if it means forgoing personal protective equipment.

The AHA cited a more stable PPE supply chain, increased vaccination rates, and limited evidence on the incidence of COVID-19 transmission to healthcare providers during chest compressions as rationale for its reassessment and update of the guidelines.

The AHA told Insider it “cares deeply about healthcare providers” and will “continually assess the science” so it protects both patients and healthcare providers.

“We strongly support wearing appropriate PPE during incidence of cardiac arrest, while recognizing how crucial it is to minimize delays in compressions,” an AHA representative told Insider. “Currently, volunteer resuscitation experts are actively working to update the recommendations in light of the rapidly evolving pandemic and new variant.”

Decisions by regulatory bodies have left nurses feeling ‘disposable’

Nurses voiced their opposition to the new AHA guidance by starting a petition in honor of Celia Marcos, a Los Angeles nurse who died of COVID-19 in April 2020 after aiding an infected patient experiencing a “code blue,” a medical emergency indicating either cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Marcos did not stop to obtain an N95 mask and attempted to save the patient in the less-protective surgical mask she was already wearing, the Los Angeles Times reported in May 2020. She died 14 days later.

“We recognize and honor our fallen sister, Celia Marcos, RN, who died of COVID-19 after rushing into a patient’s room to perform CPR without donning PPE,” the petition says. “She died fighting this terrible virus and attempting to save the life of a patient. The new AHA guidelines do not appropriately reflect the sacrifice and heroism of Nurse Marcos and ask the rest of us to do the same.”

More than 11,000 people have signed the petition, which asks the AHA and other bodies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reevaluate their guidelines for healthcare providers.

In addition to changes in care guidelines, nurses are also grappling with staffing shortages and overall burnout as the pandemic drags on, causing many to consider leaving the profession.

Last June, Beth Armentrout decided to pursue a doctorate in neurological-based clinical research and leave the nursing profession, which she said made her feel disposable. Armentrout told Insider that governing bodies like the AHA tended to espouse support for nurses, physicians, and hospital staff members while simultaneously making decisions that negatively affected their day-to-day work.

“The fact of the matter is that the governing bodies that tout support of medical professionals are siding with greedy hospitals and hospital administrators putting nursing, physicians, and support staff at risk,” Armentrout told Insider in an email. “Nurses are a female-dominated profession so apparently we can be treated as disposable. To quote a TikTok I saw today, ‘They would never do this to firemen.'”

Hospital staffing shortages may worsen if more nurses contract COVID-19 at work

Nurses are now dealing most often with COVID-19 infections caused by the highly transmissible Omicron virus variant, which is thought to account for most active COVID-19 cases in the US.

As a float nurse in a community hospital, Julia B., whose identity Insider has independently verified, worries that the new AHA guidance will exacerbate the industry’s staffing shortages and ultimately cost healthcare providers their lives.

“The AHA decision is just one in a long line of choices from the healthcare industry that has disenfranchised its workers, but it certainly further legitimizes this mistreatment,” Julia told Insider in an email. “We are dying. And we are not replaceable… Patients die due to short staffing. And staffing has never been as short as it is now.”

Nurses who have chosen to stay at the bedside told Insider they did their best to provide quality care in light of staffing shortages but struggled as patients far exceeded the number of medical professionals available to care for them. Low wages and an increased workload have plagued nurses across the US, prompting many to push for better working conditions through unions.

“We’ve been criminally underpaid for 50 years, and been gaslit into believing that’s okay because ‘just think of the patients,’ or ‘it’s your calling,'” said psychiatric nurse Conrad W., whose identity was independently verified by Insider. “Hospitals view nurses and CNAs as an expense to be cut as often as possible, as opposed to what it really is: the only thing keeping patients alive.”

Still, some nurses say healthcare regulatory bodies have already pushed them past the brink. Joy B., whose identity Insider independently verified, says she left nursing after more than two decades because decisions made by organizations like the AHA had worn her “down to a stump.”

“I read a post on Reddit saying nurses don’t have to light themselves on fire to keep other people warm. Truer words have never been stated,” Joy said. “I miss patient care most days, but I’ve realized through reading this [Reddit] board, and organizations like AHA demanding nurses set themselves on fire for subpar working conditions, possibly death, and zero support, that 24 years was enough.”

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