Esmeralda Salgado, RN at Howard University Hospital (Natalie Hockaday/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Esmeralda Salgado, RN at Howard University Hospital (Natalie Hockaday/The Washington Informer)

Nurses in D.C. are demanding action to change their working conditions and improve safety for themselves and their patients. The District of Columbia Nurses Association (DCNA) joined registered nurses and members of National Nurses United to speak their truth about the nursing shortage that is impacting the country during the pandemic.

“Right now, we’re understaffed to begin with, so that’s the problem. We don’t have enough nurses now to take care of all these sick people,” said Esmeralda Salgado, a registered nurse at Howard University Hospital.

Salgado is a new grandmother and says she has not seen her grandchild since Christmas out of fear of possibly spreading COVID-19 to the rest of the family. FaceTime, she says, has become her way of staying connected with her family. She feels unsafe and overworked.

“We barely get time to eat and even go use the bathroom. Even for the nurses, it’s not even safe anymore,” Salgado said.

Due to the hospital being short-staffed, nurses like Salgado are taking on duties outside of their nursing role. Salgado claims she has not only cared for patients but has also had to take on housekeeping duties while juggling between six to eight patients at a time. 

“I have been here 15 years and despite all of the odds, I come to work and I put in my best. I do as much as I can. All I’m saying is we need help,” said Roseline Ukoh, a registered nurse at Howard University Hospital. 

The nursing shortage is a concern for nurses because it creates unsafe working environments where they are unable to give adequate care to patients. 

“When they open floors for COVID, it’s so disorganized. You don’t know where to get your supplies. If only things could be organized better and we [could] have better staff,” Salgado added. 

The goal, Salgado said, remains to decrease the patient-to-nurse ratio to four patients per nurse to better the quality of care a patient receives alongside bettering the work environment and safety for everyone. 

“This is not a nursing shortage. This is a shortage of nurses who will continue to work in the profession and care for patients. Many nurses are leaving because they are afraid of losing their licenses, meaning they can’t work anymore as a nurse,” said Edward Smith, DCNA executive director.

Natalie Hockaday is a reporter at The Washington Informer covering health in the Washington, D.C. area. Natalie is part of the Report for America program and through this program, she continues to build...

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