6 Unsung Hospital Heroes Fighting COVID-19
Today I want to salute the hospital workers who get overlooked by media during the COVID-19 pandemic. This list is not all-encompassing and is in addition providers like physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses. I hope this serves as a friendly reminder to give credit to staff beyond the physician and nurse. And if any of your friends or family work in the professions below, buy them a jumbo slice from me.
1. Paramedics / EMT: These are the heroes who show up when you call 9-1-1 in the United States. They provide emergency medical care for patients in life-saving situations. They rush into your house or apartment building, with very little context of your living situation or medical condition. They don’t know how contagious you are and how dangerous it could be to their own health. They work in a controlled negative pressure ICU room. They sit 6 inches from you in a metal trunk. Oh, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that COVID-19 is their primary concern, but people all across the country are still having strokes and heart attacks. All for a median salary of $34,320, they’re literally save your life by risking theirs.
2. Respiratory Therapists: I’ve never heard the word “ventilator” said so much in my life. The earliest breathing machine was the Drinker respirator, invented in 1928 and known as the “iron lung”. They were primarily used in the 1930s by patients who were paralyzed by polio. In most hospitals, ventilator usage is managed by respiratory therapists. They are specifically trained and licensed to administer the machine. I’ve heard anecdotally that a respiratory therapist can manage up to 10 patients at once. Depending on how many staff the hospital employs, respiratory therapists are going to be quite busy with a virus that primarily affects lung function.
3. Medical / Nursing Assistants: Besides the attending physician, specialists, and registered nurse, each patient is typically assigned a medical assistant or patient care aide. These blessed souls assist with tasks like bathing, dressing, eating, taking vitals, and collecting specimens (i.e., urine) under the direction of a physician or nurse. There’s a chance you might see these staff more than anyone else on the care team. Just remember, these people get paid peanuts relative to the remaining care team (i.e., physician), but still risk infection to help you.
4. Environmental Services: When you have an ICU or ER filled with infectious COVID-19 patients, who do you think cleans the rooms and equipment? We know that given the shortage of PPE, providers are having to re-use supplies to serve multiple patients. After a ventilator or intubation tube has been used by a COVID-19 patient, someone has to clean and disinfect the equipment to avoid spreading a hospital acquired infection (HAI). HAIs are the Voldemort to this department’s Gryffindor. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 1 in 25 inpatients have an infection related to hospital care, leading to tens of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars of cost. Thank the people who keep your room and supplies safe.
5. Phlebotomist: The hospital has vampires. Not the malicious type, but the type who come by every few hours to collect your patient blood. This information is critical for the attending physicians and critical care team to track clinical performance of the patient. The lab orders vary depending on the condition, but generally you can expect tests like a daily set of electrolytes and a complete blood count (CBC) to be on the list. Without it, the providers can’t help you, even though everyone hates needles.
6. Medical Social Worker: One thing about staying in the hospital for COVID-19 is the immense financial and social burden it can place on your family. Time Magazine reported that the total cost of COVID-19 treatment for a Boston-area resident was $34,927.43. Sadly, the cents don’t really matter to this uninsured patient. I don’t know the exact cost of a multi-day ICU stay, but it’s a lot. The blessed social workers can help you retroactively apply for health insurance coverage (i.e., Medicaid) and assist your family in preparing for life after discharge.
Lastly, I know that personal protective equipment (PPE) is running low. I recently came across the website projectn95.com (promoted by Andy Slavitt & Marc Cuban) that is attempting to create a national clearinghouse for N95 masks. Check it out if you need supplies. And if you have any extra, please donate masks, nitrile gloves, gowns, and shields to your local hospital.