Since the coronavirus pandemic affected Maryland in March 2020, Dr. Rachel Sherman has seen about 600 COVID-19 patients – more than half of them have died.
“We get the worst of the worst. I’ve seen a patient die and then the wife die a week later – broken heart syndrome,” said Sherman, who works at the Hospice of the Chesapeake in Waldorf, Charles County. “We are on adrenaline. If we don’t, no one else will fill our void. That’s it.”
Sherman counts among the thousands of Maryland health care professionals honored by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan as part of “Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Week” which ends Sunday, Feb. 13.
“Our front-line health care workers and their families deserve our deepest gratitude for their sacrifices,” Hogan stated in his proclamation.
Through the remainder of the week and weekend, residents can share a story of a man or woman in the profession.
The proclamation highlights a 30-day state of emergency declared Jan. 4 authorizing Health Secretary Dennis Schrader to handle nursing and staff shortages at hospitals and other health care facilities. Some of the directives included to allow nursing graduates to provide services and health care practitioners to practice and conduct tasks outside their scope of licenses.
Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, wrote in a weekly memo Monday that hospitals across the state averaged 2,603 COVID-19 patients per day in January, more than the previous 10 months of patients combined.
With the state of emergency expired, an association task force plans to identify ways to keep hospitals running in the short and long term amidst the pandemic.
“As Maryland begins to see the end of this latest surge, MHA is working to make sure public officials and other key stakeholders understand the devastating toll,” Atlas said. “The need for relief is far from over and the road to recovery is long.”
The association also noted a staffing shortage of 3,900, a decrease of about 50% since August.
During his eighth and final “State of the State” address last Wednesday, Hogan continued his support for health care workers but also urged Marylanders to remain vigilant.
“My message to you is that we must all learn to live with the virus, not to live in fear of it,” he said.
Dr. Melani Bell, a nurse consultant who oversees grants and grantees for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, agreed. She teleworks from her home working directly with Health Center Control Networks on health information technology. Bell also serves as vice president of the Maryland Nurse Association. As of last month, it had nearly 4,200 members, 3,697 of whom are women.
“I think male nurses don’t get as much recognition,” said Bell, who’s a nurse case manager for Kaiser Permanente. “Nursing is difficult – just standing up to the challenge in taking on a role as a primary caregiver of someone else’s life holistically that aren’t their loved ones.”
Bell and Sherman, who both received a doctor of nursing practice degree and reside in Charles County, plan to participate in the Million Nurse March on May 12 in the District.
The main focus pushes for federal lawmakers to pass legislation on “safe staffing ratios” for health care workers, to secure additional protection for violence against workers and to nullify a proposed nursing cap on salaries for nurses.
California passed a law for staffing ratios. For example, one nurse for every four patients in emergency rooms and one nurse for every two patients in intensive/critical care.
“In health care, we want people to take care of themselves because it’s overwhelming to have that influx of patients with COVID-19; it’s draining,” Bell said. “That’s why you see a lot of nurses leaving the bedside. The nurses are doing the huge bulk of the work.”
Sherman recommended a few suggestions Maryland officials could do including tax incentives for health care workers and classifying nursing as a “hazardous profession.”
“People see nurses as kind of like being a mom. We are just not handing our band-aids and stickers,” said Sherman, a nurse practitioner who’s owned Maryland Concierge Primary Care since 2018.
“We are dealing with severe people. We are exposed to physical violence, emotional strain. This isn’t easy work,” Sherman said.