Sharing the experience of rural nurses during COVID-19 with the White House

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By Sara Buchanan, RN

It was an honor and a privilege to represent Minnesota and rural Minnesota Nurses at the White House recently on a conference call with first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff! Even small-town nurses face big-time problems in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Although our rural COVID-19 surges hit later and are starting to get better, things are still difficult.

Lack of testing, nursing shortages, personal protective equipment shortages, and COVID-19 exposures remain. Our surge had half our hospital designated to COVID-19 patients. Staff shortages, lack of Intensive Care Unit unavailability to send to high acuity hospitals that were full (80 minutes away) proved challenging even with the preparations we made.

Some of us were scouring the local hardware stores early in the pandemic to ensure we had protection. Wearing the same disposable mask for five days (12-hour shifts), knowing it was improper use of single-use personal protective equipment, was a difficult and unsafe practice. Lack of testing all hospital admissions left us exposed to COVID-19 exposure with our surgical masks. One year later, there is still a lack of N95 respirator masks, and we have to reuse them. Waiting up to 51 hours for test results for COVID-19 exposure adds to nursing and staffing shortages. This brings added stress and mental, physical, emotional, and financial concerns.

I am truly proud of our team’s work during this pandemic to care for our community, but there are still protections we need to provide the highest level of care safely.

Our story is similar and yet also different to my fellow nurses on the White House call. Lack of proper PPE, testing, staffing, and exposure to COVID-19 echoed in all the nurses’ stories. Emotions were loud and clear as each of us told our stories, and we listened to each other.

Dr. Biden and Mr. Emhoff listened to each of us, giving us time to recount important points from this year of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am so thankful to them for taking the time to reach out to rural nurses. We all appreciated their willingness to listen and try to help us as we nurses are struggling. We appreciate the gratitude they showed us and the kindness they gave us.