PAULMENO: In 2019 the World Health Organization Declared 2020 The Year of the Nurse. How True.

Submitted by Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, DNP, MS, RN, NHA, CPH, CCM, CDP. She is President of the CT Nurses Association and Chairman of The Patient is U Foundation

As President of the Connecticut Nurses Association and Chairman of The Patient is U Foundation, Inc I want to thank those in our community, State and across the country who are recognizing and honoring the bravery, dedication, essential and complex knowledge and skill-sets, and the heartfelt compassion of our nurses and other healthcare workers.

I also want to thank all our nurses who are doing what nurses always do, which is advocate for our patients and our staff and putting the needs of our patients as our top priority.

We did not know how true it would be when the World Health Organization declared in 2019 that 2020 would be designated as The Year of The Nurse.

Nurses and other healthcare workers are literally risking their lives every day of this COVID-19 pandemic while working on the front lines. They are doing so under emergency operation conditions using personal protective equipment and practices that would be unacceptable in normal times. They are operating under conditions being described as warlike.

Many people are unaware that nurses represent the largest segment of the healthcare workforce not only in Connecticut, but across the country. In Connecticut 1 in every 57 people is a Registered Nurse (67,817) but that figure omits the vast additional numbers of LPNs, APRNs, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Anesthesiologists, which together totals 87,769 licensed nurses in Connecticut (CT DPH, 2019). The nursing workforce also includes the often unrecognized heart
and soul of our labor force; our 34,063 certified nursing assistants and home health aide colleagues who do a very difficult and often thankless job every day of every year. It comes as no surprise to me that nurses are rated annually by people across America as the most trusted, honest and ethical professionals bar none (Nurses Continue to Rate Highest in Honesty, Ethics).

Nurses have far outranked every other health profession in this ranking for the last 18 years. It is not a surprise to me that Drs. Trzeciak and Mazzarelli (2019) dedicated their book, Compassionomics: The revolutionary scientific evidence that caring makes a difference, to nurses, saying that nurses’ compassion for patients has inspired them to be better doctors.

The CT Nurses Association (Me, our Executive Director, the Chairman of our Legislative Committee, and our Nursing Association Committee members) has been in discussion with the Governor and others on his staff about the needs of nurses on the front line of the Pandemic crisis. We have engaged in discussions and meetings with other types of nursing associations (The Connecticut League for Nursing and the Connecticut Nursing Foundation), with the Deans
and Directors of Schools of Nursing, with other State and Territorial Nurses’ Associations, with the leadership of various hospitals and healthcare facilities, as well as with the printed and viewable media where we have been the voice of Connecticut’s nursing workforce based on surveys we conducted as well as from nurses who reached out to us. We have been producing webinars for nursing students and practicing nurses as well as actively engaging in webinars and learning sessions with the American Nurses Association (ANA), FEMA, and The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

We have partnered with the ANA to get massive amounts of correspondences from our nurses out to our legislators on numerous topics impacting the urgent and immediate need to obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) now to avoid shortages as we peak in numbers; and to address other health and safety issues involving nurses, other healthcare providers, and our patients. The Connecticut Nurses Association has conducted two statewide polls that were sent out to nurses across Connecticut (LPNs, RNs, and APRNs) which had overwhelmingly good response rates and helped inform us of frontline needs and concerns. Many have been referred for active service to their local American Red Cross offices and their local Medical Reserve Corp offices.

Many in our area are probably not aware that the President of the CT Nurses Association (CNA) lives and is very active right here in Old Greenwich. In my role I have been engaged, along with fellow Board and Committee members, on many fronts including helping to mobilize nurses in their local communities who are currently inactive for any of a number of reasons. These include being home with child rearing responsibilities, having sustained various health issues and disabilities, and retirement to name but a few. We have an aging nursing workforce; 30% of Connecticut’s nurses are over 60. There are currently 5-generations of nurses working in today’s workforce. The older ones, like me at 72 years old and with underlying health conditions, are in the high-risk COVID-19 group and need to avoid being out in groups, which precludes
volunteering to work on the front lines; but we can do many other functions that draw upon our highly skilled nursing backgrounds and experiences.

I have reached out to nurses on the Old Greenwich/Riverside Bulletin Board, Next Door Old Greenwich to find other nurses who can serve as community resources to our neighbors. Not only have nurses responded, but also two epidemiologists and a medical translator. Nurses who cannot go on the front lines can help monitor bulletin board sites and social media for misinformation and gently and apolitically redirect people to bonafide scientific/evidence-based
resources such as our State and Local Departments of Health, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization. We can offer infection control and personal safety guidance to the wonderful people coming forth to do things for their elderly and disabled neighbors. I’ve made my contact information available if people want to just talk about COVID-19 and what is worrying them. I have a long history in psychiatric nursing and recognize the impact of social isolation on people, especially the elderly and those with mental health issues. I’ve written and distributed to local organizations a short “how to’ article on applying and removing a face mask and I’m working on others about handwashing, surface cleaning and sanitizing, and on why social distancing is important. When such information comes from a credentialed professional neighbor, such guidance seems more personal. We can help quell the fears people are having. People trust and respect nurses. So many of our younger health professionals are working on the front lines but I and others like me are at home and we can provide nursing services in other ways I’m a public health nurse, a gerontologist and a case manager, but other nurses have a wide range of expertise in different areas. I am doing volunteer telephone education programs for groups like At Home in Greenwich and other programs serving the public. After the 1 st well-attended session with At Home in Greenwich I was asked to hold the call weekly, thus showing how badly people need trusted information and the opportunity to talk. Nurses are infection control experts and teaching patient and family education across the age span is a critical aspect of nursing.

The World Health Organization declared 2020 to be The Year of the Nurse and our nurses are stepping up to show the world just why this is so accurate now and always.