Frontline Workers Part 3: Medical Staff

Jake Bonneman
January 21, 2023

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the contributions of essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic. And as I write this third installment, probably no one is (still) on the front lines as much as America’s healthcare workers, battling a novel coronavirus that’s still spreading.

And while—at the present time—numbers seem encouraging, I don’t have to tell you we’ve heard that before.

America’s medical staff are literally—and I mean literally, physically—putting themselves in between us and the virus.

And no matter how much (or how little) praise they get, it’s not enough.

We’ve demanded too much from these heroes for too long, and now we’re facing a crisis of completely exhausted and demoralized nurses, doctors, CNAs, paramedics, EMTs, technicians, patient sitters, transporters, and other front-line medical workers.

What can you say that does these people justice? I want to call them heroes, but they get called that all the time these days. Does it even mean anything anymore?

When this first hit, frontline medical workers rose to the occasion, just like a lot of us knew they would.

You might say they didn’t have a choice.

But they did.

No one forced them at gunpoint to put themselves in the most dangerous situations in the unexpected global outbreak of a deadly virus

And they sure as hell weren’t offered adequate compensation.

Most weren’t offered any additional compensation.

Some were offered pay cuts.

Many working in hospitals faced the same old story—less staff, longer hours, quibbling over overtime—less pay for more work.

As anyone who knows a medical worker personally is probably aware, this kind of thing started way before the pandemic—Burnout was already costing the health care system $4.6 billion pre-COVID. And when burnout hits, it’s not just a monetary cost, or a psychological cost for the sufferer—it’s a loss in experience.

Nurses and other staff who have been working in a unit for decades have skills that simply can’t be replaced overnight. But still, healthcare companies have been cutting hours and demanding more and more from medical staff for years.

Even before COVID, physicians were already at twice the risk of burnout compared to the general population, with 40% reporting depression and suicidal ideation. But since the spread of coronavirus back in 2020, some 60% to 75% of clinicians have reported symptoms of PTSD, exhaustion, depression, and sleep disorders.

Meanwhile, RNs and LPNs are equally (if not more) stressed.

And while it’s great that some hospitals are spending money on public displays of supposed affection for their staff—”We love our heroes” banners and so forth—anyone who’s actually worked inside a hospital during this whole nightmare has probably found some of those gestures a little hollow.

It’s not that most hospital executives haven’t felt stressed during this whole thing—although the majority of them surely haven’t noticed it as much by virtue of their job descriptions.

They’re just generally not the ones who’ve been getting called into catastrophically understaffed floors with no sleep, drinking shitty coffee, dealing with abuse from patients and their stressed family members, navigating overcrowded corridors and tiny spaces packed wall to wall with sick and infectious people without proper PPE and without hazard pay—and that’s just to make it to the time clock.

So thank you to our nurses, thank you to our physicians, thank you EMTs and CNAs and paramedics, and everyone in between. Thank you folks for the sacrifices you’ve made for years and the ones you continue to make on the daily as the case numbers (hopefully, again) continue to get better.

You all and your courage, commitment, and dedication to protecting the most vulnerable of us by risking your own lives deserves more admiration than we can adequately express in words. Yes, many of you are literally heroes.

Your selfless service to patients and their families, continuing to save lives like you always do no matter how dangerous your job gets or how much your resources are stretched, truly speaks to the kind of people who choose your profession in the first place.

So frontline healthcare workers, today—and every day—we raise our mugs to you.

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Jake Bonneman
January 21, 2023
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