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'They're Just Exhausted': ND Nurses Group Describes Troubling COVID Scene

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Over the summer, North Dakota saw about 65 hospitalizations related to COVID-19. In mid-November, that number is well above 300, putting a strain on hospital staff, including nurses. (Adobe Stock)
Over the summer, North Dakota saw about 65 hospitalizations related to COVID-19. In mid-November, that number is well above 300, putting a strain on hospital staff, including nurses. (Adobe Stock)
November 17, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota health care professionals say they're happy to see new statewide measures aimed at stopping the dramatic COVID-19 surge. But an advocacy group for nurses remains concerned a prior decision will impact the safety of workers and patients.

Over the weekend, Gov. Doug Burgum announced a statewide mask mandate and business restrictions. A number of groups have long called for such moves as the coronavirus tightens its grip on North Dakota.

Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, said they hope the public complies with these protocols to ease the burden on hospital staff. She said many nurses are being thrown into troubling situations.

"They're just exhausted and they're unprepared," Johnson said. "And so, the majority of nurses I think will stick it out because it's just kind of what we do, we don't want to bail on our patients. But also, it's really difficult to be put into a situation where you feel unsafe and you feel your patient's may be unsafe because you can't give the care that they need."

She said ICU staff are trained to provide specialized care, and nurses being hurried to fill gaps creates risk.

Meanwhile, the group still is opposed to a state announcement that because hospitals are at full capacity, nurses who have a coronavirus diagnosis but are asymptomatic are allowed to stay on duty in COVID units. Gov. Burgum said he made the decision at the urging of health care administrators. Such a move is allowed under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Johnson acknowledged as hospital staff become stretched thin, there's only so much that can be done to respond. But she said that decision creates another level of concern and trepidation for nurses.

In the meantime, the association hopes residents take the new mandates and the virus more seriously.

"Think of all the actions you're taking -- to wear masks, to socially distance, to stay in your own household for the holidays so we can enjoy holidays with our family next year,"Johnson said. "Because if we don't take those precautions right now, there's not gonna be anybody left in the workforce."

In addition to staff members getting sick, Johnson said some nurses might opt to leave the profession once the crisis subsides. Nurses have expressed concern that being rushed into providing care they're not trained to provide could threaten their license.

As of Monday, the state health department said less than 10% of staffed hospital beds in North Dakota were available for patients.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND