As COVID-19 spreads across the country, American Nurses Association President Ernest Grant wants to make sure that nurses have all the tools necessary to not only protect patients, but themselves. The ANA in late February joined the American Hospital Association in writing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking for $1 billion in supplemental funding to help hospitals offset the costs of fighting the outbreak. At deadline, a broader $8.3 billion spending bill was making its way through Congress. Grant spoke with Modern Healthcare Managing Editor Matthew Weinstock. The following is an edited transcript.
MH: As we look at this fast-moving situation on COVID-19, what are you focused on?
Grant: The nation’s nurses are prepared and ready to respond to this outbreak. And we remain committed to making sure that their safety is continued, and also that they have the opportunity to provide the public education that’s needed to help calm or allay the fears that may be going on in the public.
MH: What role do you see nurses taking in helping to calm any anxiety?
Grant: We encourage patients and the public to, first of all, educate themselves and to follow the guidelines of health experts. There are a number of resources and things they can go to, but nurses are reliable and have proven to be responsive about infectious diseases in emergencies.
We provide safe, quality, compassionate, nondiscriminatory care. And the main thing is being able to do that in the communities where we live and … to help allay the fears that people may have.
Obviously, making sure that patients are provided with the latest information about the coronavirus is a top priority for us. And that includes them recognizing the signs and symptoms and being able to set in motion an action plan as far as what to do. Especially if they suspect that they may have the virus, what are some of the next steps they need to undertake.
MH: Do you think nurses on the front lines are getting enough information to be able to then communicate that downstream to patients?
Grant: Yes, we do. One of the things we encourage our nurses to do is to go to our website, nursingworld.org. We also call on all healthcare organizations and employers to continue to provide nurses with clear communication and access to the appropriate safeguards to help protect themselves and the public as well.
MH: National Nurses United put out information from member surveys suggesting that hospital preparedness plans are not where they should be at this point. Have you done any similar surveys of your members? Are hospitals responding appropriately?
Grant: We have done some surveys and it’s about 50/50 who feel that they’re not ready or that there’s not enough correct information out there. But either way, we encourage facilities to make sure that they have a plan in place and that it is disseminated, not only to the nursing staff, but other members of the healthcare team and to the public.
MH: Have you received feedback from leaders in Congress on your ask for supplemental funding?
Grant: We have not heard directly from their staff, but the legislation that was put forward appears to be robust and moving us in the right direction.
MH: Does that package do enough to address your priority areas?
Grant: The ANA’s policy and legislative staff is currently reviewing the package, but on its surface, I am told it is a positive first step. They have committed more than $3 billion to development of a coronavirus vaccine and treatments. They included $300 million to make sure all Americans will be able to access these regardless of their financial situation. There is also $2.2 billion going toward funding prevention, preparedness and response.
Another important step they took is extending telehealth services to seniors who have Medicare.
In addition, the legislation provides $25 million to states and local jurisdictions most at risk for coronavirus. The funds will assist with lab equipment, supplies, shipping, infection control, and surge staffing—surge staffing likely being a huge priority.
MH: What kind of increased staffing needs do you expect?
Grant: As healthcare providers may be exposed to the virus, that means they’re having to be quarantined. As a result, you have to call in people to replace those individuals. There’s also the real-time adjustment of nurse staffing plans based on the number of COVID-19 cases that are in the facility. And of course, you’ve got to be able to flex up or flex down if there’s a surge.
But you also have to think of the downtime. Those individuals are being asked to work long hours and that puts a lot of stress on an individual, not only physically but also from a psychological perspective.
MH: Funding will flow through federal agencies and states. Do you agree with that?
Grant: ANA is pleased to see a bipartisan agreement come through. State leaders, hospital chief nursing officers, and other local public health officials are best equipped to allocate resources where needed.
MH: Nursing homes are especially challenged right now. Are there unique problems that your members in those environments are facing?
Grant: You’re dealing with a population that may already have either a weakened immune system or, as you know, this virus seems to be very detrimental to individuals who are senior citizens. So the fact that they may have other comorbidities does make it much more of a challenge.
This is why we encourage all of our members to access our website on a daily basis for the latest updates and other information that they need to arm themselves in order to provide the best care for their patients.
MH: How worried are you about the supply chain?
Grant: We’re working with the administration to ensure that the necessary supplies that are urgently needed will be able to get to the right individuals—nurses at the bedside and in facilities where these illnesses are already present. But also, other facilities that perhaps are not affected now, are ramping up and being prepared. It’s extremely important that we have a ready supply of personal protective equipment to ensure the safety of the patient, but also the safety of healthcare providers as well as the public.