Changes are needed to help today’s health care heroes

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On 9/11, firefighters and other first responders rushed in to protect others, and for that, they will always be heroes. Today, health care workers are rushing in to heal those with COVID-19 – at great risk to themselves. Health care workers are the true heroes of this crisis.

On routine days, clinicians caring for patients at the bedside are at far greater risk than most people in their daily jobs. But these are not routine days. In the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with severe illness are flooding into many hospitals. Some hospitals will be stretched beyond capacity, facing greater numbers of seriously ill patients than they have personnel, equipment, beds, or resources to handle.

But no matter what happens, health care practitioners will continue to do their best to care for people and save lives, even at risk to themselves. No matter how harrowing the circumstances may become, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, technicians, and others will be there working to heal patients using every means available to them.

Even more amazing, despite the risk, practitioners are raising their hands to serve at hospitals and care for patients with COVID-19. We are seeing an outpouring of these hand-raisers willing to serve wherever they are needed most to meet the overwhelming demand. These health care professionals – including many coming out of retirement — are like smokejumpers parachuting in to stop a wildfire’s spread. In just over one week, we had more than 20,000 raise their hands to serve in places where COVID-19 patients need treatment.

So, if you know a nurse, doctor, or respiratory therapist, if you know a hospital medical assistant, an ER tech, pharmacist, or anyone in health care – thank them. Tell them how much you appreciate them and the great work they are doing to fight the battle against COVID-19. Remember how the public stood up and applauded firefighters after 9/11? Do the same for people in scrubs.

But we can do much more for those who dedicate their lives to care for others. We need a national, all-out effort to ensure they have the resources they need, including masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment to safely care for patients and combat this virus, while keeping themselves We also must make sure they have the equipment and supplies such as ventilators, essential medicines, and other essential materials they need to provide safe, effective care for patients.

We would never dream of sending firefighters to a fire without the necessary equipment. Health care practitioners deserve the same commitment to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are more actions we can take to support health care professionals. Particularly in times of crisis, clinicians must be allowed to practice anywhere in the country with one license, rather than requiring separate state licenses. This action would enable them to move quickly to any locations where they are needed most. Restrictions on telehealth need to be removed, so more practitioners can help people anywhere in the country, especially in rural areas. We need to allow health care professionals to practice to the full extent of their training, so that nurse practitioners and other advanced practice professionals can diagnose and treat people without restrictions placed upon them by many states.

During crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, these and other measures are necessary to meet increased demands and get health care practitioners to patients in the quickest ways possible. Since the pandemic began, state and federal leaders have stated they would remove obstacles to practice for health care professionals, including allowing national licensure. But, these innovations require regulatory changes in addition to commitments.

With the entire country on the frontlines of the pandemic, health care professionals need everyone to do their part, stay home when asked, stay healthy, and carry the lessons forward to make us stronger, better, and closer. When this crisis is over, we trust Americans will remember the risks and sacrifices made for them by health care workers. Their dedication and commitment to the science and art of healing are vital to our well-being and security, and we need to do everything in our power to help them help us. We can start by finding ways to say, “thank you.”

Cole Edmonson is chief clinical officer, AMN Healthcare.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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