Travel Nurse Describes “Horrific” COVID Pit for Dying Patients at El Paso Hospital

El Paso, Texas is currently dealing with one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus in the country with over 82,000 cases in a population of 951,000. That means around one in every ten people now has the virus with many more cases sure to come. Experts say the border city is now in the middle of its third outbreak or “wave” since the beginning of the year as seriously ill patients continue to stream into the University Medical Center of El Paso.

Lawanna Rivers, a travel nurse, recently shared her experience on the job in a nearly hour-long Facebook Live video published on November 7th. She says the facility created a “pit” for the sickest COVID-19 patients, where they were essentially left to die.

The Deadliest Assignment Yet

This isn’t Lawanna Rivers’ first time dealing with a deadly outbreak of COVID-19. She’s served five postings over the course of the year, and her time at the University Medical Center of El Paso has been the worst by far. As she says in the video, “Out of all the COVID assignments I’ve been on, this one here has really left me emotionally scarred. The facility I’m at has surpassed the one I was at in New York.”

In addition to the usual safety concerns, she was outraged over her superiors’ lack of concern for those dying of COVID-19. She says the patients least likely to survive the disease were moved to a “pit”.

“My first day at orientation, I was told that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag,” Rivers said.

According to her, nurses were told they could only revive patients in the room three times using CPR before finally letting them die. She recalls one experience in which a worker wheeled a dead body into the room after the morgue was full.

“The morgue was so full of bodies that they had run out of room, so once the doors opened to the pit, they came wheeling in a body already in a bag,” she said. “Lined them up with the rest of our alive patients because they had to store the body in there, because the morgue was out of room. They’ve had to bring in freezer trucks because there’s so many bodies.”

Even with so many years as a nurse under her belt, the experience was haunting. “I’ve seen so many (more) deaths in this last month than I’ve seen in my entire 13-year career,” Rivers added.

Nurses Only

It wasn’t just the facility’s disregard for human life that upset Rivers. She says during her entire time on the ward, she never saw a doctor go into the pit. “The doctors don’t even step foot in those COVID rooms to see those patients,” she said.

This created a sense of inequality in the workplace where nurses were seen as disposable and the doctors were kept at a safe distance. As Rivers added, “We as nurses, it’s OK for us to be exposed, but you as doctors, you don’t even come in there. You can’t get exposed, but we can, and you all are making all the money.”

Despite the risks, Rivers volunteered to work in the pit every day she was on the job. Sadly, almost all of the patients were beyond the point of saving.

“I have never experienced, and have no words, for what I just experienced in El Paso, Texas,” she said. “If those doctors there would aggressively treat those patients from the beginning, a lot more would make it.”

VIP Status

She also describes an instance in which one of the doctor’s wives was treated as a “VIP”. Rivers says the woman was also the only one to come out of the ICU alive during her month on the floor.

“They pulled out all the stops for that woman — it was nothing that they didn’t do for that woman. And guess what? She was the one patient that made it out of the ICU alive and was able to downgrade to a long-term acute care. So, you mean to tell me because she’s a doctor’s wife, her life meant more than any of those other patients?”

Rivers remembers feeling that she would’ve died if she had contracted the disease in Texas, considering the recent surge.

Her video has since gone viral, attracting attention from various news outlets. The hospital has issued a statement in response to the backlash.

“After watching the video, while we cannot fully verify the events expressed, we empathize and sympathize with the difficult, physical, and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on thousands of healthcare workers here and throughout our country,” said hospital spokesman Ryan Mielke.

Rivers’ story is a shocking reminder of how horrifying this pandemic can be for front line workers. 

Honoring Baby Liam After Losing His Battle with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

Here at Scrubs Mag, we’ve been covering Baby Liam and his family’s journey for over a year. Last August, he was diagnosed with AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia) on his first birthday. The family was heartbroken to discover there was cancer in his blood. He quickly underwent a bone marrow biopsy, then a spinal tap injection of chemo in hopes of preventing the leukemia from spreading to his brain and spinal fluid.

AML is a special type of leukemia in which the body produces excess immature white blood cells. It requires stronger treatment than some other types of leukemia, and operating presents numerous risks. However, the family at that point was relieved to discover the cancer hadn’t spread to his brain.

Over the past year, the family has been mostly staying at the hospital where Baby Liam was being treated. Last year, his parents had to spend the holidays in the hospital as they waited for their son to recover. Meanwhile, the medical bills kept piling up.

Just last week, Liam’s blood work looked great, and he “was totally normal”, as his parents stated on the Healing4BabyLiam Facebook page. On November 22, an update to the page explained that “no one knew his AML Leukemia had come back as a huge brain tumor.” A subsequent post that same day stated that “Liam is still on life support but his brain has not been responding…we really need a miracle but it’s not looking good.”

Now, after more than a year since he was first diagnosed, Baby Liam has passed away after coming off life support at 1 PM PST on Monday, November 23rd, as his family shared on social media. Thoughts and prayers started pouring in as his family members, friends, and even complete strangers began donating to the family’s GoFundMe account, which will go towards the cost of putting together a funeral for Liam.

Liam’s sister, Mercedez Sanchez, is the organizer of the campaign. As she wrote online, “There are so many doctor bills and everything adding up I wanted to help by creating this fund. My family is very hard working, but things have not been easy, and I just want to say thank you for your prayers, support and anyone reading and sharing our story.”

The money is also being used to support the family during this difficult time. Losing a child can be painful in so many ways. It increases the risk of mental illness and other serious health conditions that can lead to death. Bereaved mothers are more likely to be diagnosed or hospitalized during the first year after they lose their child than at any other point in their lives.

As the family says goodbye to their son, we are wishing them the best as they make this painful journey. Consider donating whatever you can to their campaign to ease their burden.

Strange Medical Facts That Are Actually True? We Asked Our Nurses to Find Out

Science and medicine work in mysterious ways. There is so much to understand about the human body that you’d need several lifetimes to figure it all out. Here at Scrubs Mag, we went looking for some strange medical facts, and found more than we knew what to do with. Healthcare workers started sharing all kinds of hilariously true medical facts on our Facebook page “Funny Nurses”.

If you’re looking to brighten your day during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, find out just how amazing the human body can be.

Gary Baron:

“Dogs can smell when a patient is about to have a tonic clonic seizure and can be trained to give the patient a pre-alert to get to a safe place before it actually happens.”

Just one more reason to love dogs.

Angelique Longmore:

“If you have cut yourself in your mouth/gum, have a teaspoon of white sugar. It stops the bleeding immediately.”

Good to know; hopefully it works!

Katherine Carol:

“Bloody nose that won’t stop? Roll up gauze or tissue and place between the upper lip and gum. The pressure will INSTANTLY stop even the bloodiest of noses and you don’t need to stick tissue in the nares!”

Quality mom advice, right there.

Jennifer Lee:

“Taking antibiotics will render your contraceptives ineffective.”

We weren’t sure that was true until Courtney Abrahamson added, “most contraceptives, but not all.”

Be careful out there, ladies.

Tye H:

“In my personal experience, flies do land on patients who are close to death.”

Might want to close the screen on the window.

Barry Evans:

“If you are about to sneeze and you bite your top lip, the feeling should pass.”

Must-know tips for COVID-19 season.

Eden Luana:

“Your cervix and your head/face/neck/mouth are all connected. My GYN told me about this before using local anesthetic in my cervix pre-IUD implant. I’m a nurse and I did not believe him when he said my ears may ring/get tingling in my mouth or feel dizzy when given the local. I then felt like I was drunk and euphoric. 🤣🤣🤣 (Please note, I had no IV drugs/premeds.)”

Don’t try that at home.

Taylor Allen Weidner:

“Little elderly ladies with dementia will KNOCK YOUR ASS OUT with one punch! We called it dementia hulk strength!”

Keep that in mind if you go home for Christmas.

Rachel Fowles:

“Sprinkle sugar on the tip of a penis and squeeze for five minutes to help paraphimosis. My first task as a newly qualified nurse and the best treatment my patient said he got on the NHS. 😂😂😂🙈”

Now that’s hospitality!

Brian Pittman:

“Many of the surgical instruments used today were developed by a barber in France who got roped into performing the first-known anal fistula surgery on one of the French Kings. He also practiced this pioneering surgery on prison inmates. 😕”

Glad to know we learned from the best.

Joanne O’Brien:

“If you give IV furosemide too fast it can make you go deaf… Permanently! 😳”

Please don’t say that to your patients.

Olivia Houde:

“Pouring granulated sugar on a prolapsed rectum is supposed to help with manual reduction. I just learned this last night during my shift!”

Someone’s learning on the job.

Michelle Ambrose:

“Rubbing Vicks vapor rub onto the soles of your feet then putting socks on stops coughing. It’s a godsend when my kids get coughs and can’t sleep.”

Mommy needs rest, too.

Shaun Dooley:

“What you see may not be what is actually “out there” in the world. The brain has to reconstruct the images. You see with your brain, the eyes don’t ‘see’ anything.”

Who knew?

Julie Lochotzki Finton:

“Tequila will make you break out in handcuffs.”

Please drink responsibly.

Janice Worsham:

“You cannot get a Tylenol bottle out of your butt by yourself.”

Don’t worry, we called the paramedics. She’s fine.

Khilee Olijames:

“The first thing an elderly male will wash in the shower with a clean washcloth will be his man-bits or bum. THEN he will wash his face.”

Wait, how do they know that?

Thirkill Tanya:

“St. John’s Wort makes health professionals anxious because it reacts with basically everything.”

Spread the word.

Thanks to everyone who shared on Facebook. These comments were just what needed to get through the day. 

70-Year-Old Nursing Teacher Comes Out of Retirement Only to Die of COVID-19

One community in North Texas is honoring the life of one amazing woman. Iris Meda, a long-time registered nurse and educator, recently came out of retirement to train the next generation of nurses as they get ready to combat the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, she eventually contracted the disease herself, only to pass away last week.

Her family and the nursing community are showing their support for this legendary educator who risked it all to make sure young nurses had the skills they needed to serve on the front lines. We’re proud to share her story and everything she did for the nursing profession.

Coming Out of Retirement

Meda wasn’t always in love with academia. She dropped out of high school at a young age and went on to receive her GED. She eventually enrolled in nursing school and graduated from New York City College in 1984. She continued to serve in the field for nearly 40 years before ending her career as a career counselor, training nurses in the North Texas area. She eventually retired from her work at the North Texas Job Corps, where she was an administrator of the onsite clinic, in January of 2020.

Just as she was ending her career, the COVD-19 crisis had entered the stage. At the age of 70, Meda soon realized she had to cut her newfound retirement short and get right back in the classroom, so aspiring nurses could still get certified. Beginning in September, just in time for the new semester, Meda went back to work as an educator, training nursing students at Collin College as well as high school students earning dual credit.

Her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel said, “One of the reasons she wanted to be an educator, specifically in nursing at this time, the reason she came out of retirement to pursue it was because of the pandemic. She wanted to train other front line workers to help in this crisis.”

Meda was known for her thoughtful, encouraging ways as an educator. At a time when nursing students were wrecked with uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, Meda was there to lend a helping hand.

Selene Meda-Schlamel added, “She would say how she could pick out the ones who were struggling and she would stay after with them and give them a helping hand because she had received so much encouragement in her life.”

Coming Down with COVID

Considering her age and race, Meda was a high-risk individual. Her daughter says her mom was diagnosed with the virus in early October, and was hospitalized on Oct. 17th.

It’s not clear where Meda contracted the virus, but it likely could have been at work. The school where she taught said classes would be in-person, but Meda thought it was worth the risk.

Her students started sending in their hopes, prayers, and get-well cards, but Meda’s condition quickly worsened, and she was soon placed on a ventilator.

Her daughter and Meda’s 75-year-old husband remember visiting her in the hospital covered in PPE. “Just to see this amazing, vivacious woman…so willing to put her life on the line to help others so they could then help others, to see her languishing there,” said Selene Meda-Schlamel. “It was such a tragedy.”

Going to the hospital was a wake-up call for Meda’s daughter and her entire family. She wants people to know that things can easily take a turn for the worst even if you have access to the right medical care.

“Just because you make it into the hospital in time doesn’t mean that you’re going to immediately get all of the treatment because of the hospital’s own protocol, plus the overcrowding and shortness of staff,” her daughter added.

The entire community is coming together in light of Meda’s passing.

Neil Matkin, the president of Collin College, issued a statement after her passing: “On behalf of our Board of Trustees, students, faculty and staff, we extend our deepest condolences to the Meda family. Professor Meda’s family shared that she was honored to serve as an instructor at Collin College, and we are sincerely grateful for her service to our students.”

Friends of the family have also started a GoFundMe account to help pay for her medical bills and funeral expenses, as well as a scholarship for aspiring nurses, so they can honor Meda’s legacy as an instructor. As the organizers write online, “Iris was passionate about education and this will be a befitting tribute to her.”

The group is on track to reach their goal of $20,000 as more donations keep pouring in. One of Meda’s former colleagues wrote online, “We all appreciate the selflessness of Iris Meda in doing what every teacher would do: to teach a new generation valuable skills that are desperately needed right now. Iris embodies what all teachers aspire to, and we thank her for being an inspiration to us all.”

Need a COVID-19 Nurse? That’ll Be $8,000 a Week

DENVER — In March, Claire Tripeny was watching her dream job fall apart. She’d been working as an intensive care nurse at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, Colorado, and loved it, despite the mediocre pay typical for the region. But when COVID-19 hit, that calculation changed.

She remembers her employers telling her and her colleagues to “suck it up” as they struggled to care for six patients each and patched their protective gear with tape until it fully fell apart. The $800 or so a week she took home no longer felt worth it.

“I was not sleeping and having the most anxiety in my life,” said Tripeny. “I’m like, ‘I’m gonna go where my skills are needed and I can be guaranteed that I have the protection I need.’”

In April, she packed her bags for a two-month contract in then-COVID hot spot New Jersey, as part of what she called a “mass exodus” of nurses leaving the suburban Denver hospital to become traveling nurses. Her new pay? About $5,200 a week, and with a contract that required adequate protective gear.

Months later, the offerings — and the stakes — are even higher for nurses willing to move. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nurses can make more than $6,200 a week. A recent posting for a job in Fargo, North Dakota, offered more than $8,000 a week. Some can get as much as $10,000.

Early in the pandemic, hospitals were competing for ventilators, COVID tests and personal protective equipment. Now, sites across the country are competing for nurses. The fall surge in COVID cases has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war, with hospitals willing to pay exorbitant wages to secure the nurses they need. That threatens to shift the supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals unable to care for critically ill patients.

“That is a huge threat,” said Angelina Salazar, CEO of the Western Healthcare Alliance, a consortium of 29 small hospitals in rural Colorado and Utah. “There’s no way rural hospitals can afford to pay that kind of salary.”

Surge Capacity

Hospitals have long relied on traveling nurses to fill gaps in staffing without committing to long-term hiring. Early in the pandemic, doctors and nurses traveled from unaffected areas to hot spots like California, Washington state and New York to help with regional surges. But now, with virtually every part of the country experiencing a surge — infecting medical professionals in the process — the competition for the finite number of available nurses is becoming more intense.

“We all thought, ‘Well, when it’s Colorado’s turn, we’ll draw on the same resources; we’ll call our surrounding states and they’ll send help,’” said Julie Lonborg, a spokesperson for the Colorado Hospital Association. “Now it’s a national outbreak. It’s not just one or two spots, as it was in the spring. It’s really significant across the country, which means everybody is looking for those resources.”

In North Dakota, Tessa Johnson said she’s getting multiple messages a day on LinkedIn from headhunters. Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, said the pandemic appears to be hastening a brain drain of nurses there. She suspects more nurses may choose to leave or retire early after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum told health care workers to stay on the job even if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

All four of Utah’s major health care systems have seen nurses leave for traveling nurse positions, said Jordan Sorenson, a project manager for the Utah Hospital Association.

“Nurses quit, join traveling nursing companies and go work for a different hospital down the street, making two to three times the rate,” he said. “So, it’s really a kind of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul staffing situation.”

Hospitals not only pay the higher salaries offered to traveling nurses but also pay a commission to the traveling nurse agency, Sorenson said. Utah hospitals are trying to avoid hiring away nurses from other hospitals within the state. Hiring from a neighboring state like Colorado, though, could mean Colorado hospitals would poach from Utah.

“In the wake of the current spike in COVID hospitalizations, calling the labor market for registered nurses ‘cutthroat’ is an understatement,” said Adam Seth Litwin, an associate professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. “Even if the health care sector can somehow find more beds, it cannot just go out and buy more front-line caregivers.”

Litwin said he’s glad to see the labor market rewarding essential workers — disproportionately women and people of color — with higher wages. Under normal circumstances, allowing markets to determine where people will work and for what pay is ideal.

“On the other hand, we are not operating under normal circumstances,” he said. “In the midst of a severe public health crisis, I worry that the individual incentives facing hospitals on the one side and individual RNs on the other conflict sharply with the needs of society as whole.”

Some hospitals are exploring ways to overcome staffing challenges without blowing the budget. That could include changing nurse-to-patient ratios, although that would likely affect patient care. In Utah, the hospital association has talked with the state nursing board about allowing nursing students in their final year of training to be certified early.

Growth Industry

Meanwhile business is booming for companies centered on health care staffing such as Wanderly and Krucial Staffing.

“When COVID first started and New York was an epicenter, we at Wanderly kind of looked at it and said, ‘OK, this is our time to shine,’” said David Deane, senior vice president of Wanderly, a website that allows health care professionals to compare offers from various agencies. “‘This is our time to help nurses get to these destinations as fast as possible. And help recruiters get those nurses.’”

Deane said the company has doubled its staff since the pandemic started. Demand is surging — with Rocky Mountain states appearing in up to 20 times as many job postings on the site as in January. And more people are meeting that demand.

In 2018, according to data from a national survey, about 31,000 traveling nurses worked nationwide. Now, Deane estimated, there are at least 50,000 travel nurses. Deane, who calls travel nurses “superheroes,” suspects a lot of them are postoperative nurses who were laid off when their hospitals stopped doing elective surgeries during the first lockdowns.

Competition for nurses, especially those with ICU experience, is stiff. After all, a hospital in South Dakota isn’t competing just with facilities in other states.

“We’ve sent nurses to Aruba, the Bahamas and Curacao because they’ve needed help with COVID,” said Deane. “You’re going down there, you’re making $5,000 a week and all your expenses are paid, right? Who’s not gonna say yes?”

Krucial Staffing specializes in sending health care workers to disaster locations, using military-style logistics. It filled hotels and rented dozens of buses to get nurses to hot spots in New York and Texas. CEO Brian Cleary said that, since the pandemic started, the company has grown its administrative staff from 12 to more than 200.

“Right now we’re at our highest volume we’ve been,” said Cleary, who added that over Halloween weekend alone about 1,000 nurses joined the roster of “reservists.”

With a base rate of $95 an hour, he said, some nurses working overtime end up coming away with $10,000 a week, though there are downsides, like the fact that the gig doesn’t come with health insurance and it’s an unstable, boom-and-bust market.

Hidden Costs

Amber Hazard, who lives in Texas, started as a traveling ICU nurse before the pandemic and said eye-catching sums like that come with a hidden fee, paid in sanity.

“How your soul is affected by this is nothing you can put a price on,” she said.

At a high-paying job caring for COVID patients during New York’s first wave, she remembers walking into the break room in a hospital in the Bronx and seeing a sign on the wall about how the usual staff nurses were on strike.

“It said, you know, ‘We’re not doing this. This is not safe,’” said Hazard. “And it wasn’t safe. But somebody had to do it.”

The highlight of her stint there was placing a wedding ring back on the finger of a recovered patient. But Hazard said she secured far more body bags than rings on patients.

Tripeny, the traveling nurse who left Colorado, is now working in Kentucky with heart surgery patients. When that contract wraps up, she said, she might dive back into COVID care.

Earlier, in New Jersey, she was scarred by the times she couldn’t give people the care they needed, not to mention the times she would take a deceased patient off a ventilator, staring down the damage the virus can do as she removed tubes filled with blackened blood from the lungs.

She has to pay for mental health therapy out-of-pocket now, unlike when she was on staff at a hospital. But as a so-called traveler, she knows each gig will be over in a matter of weeks.

At the end of each week in New Jersey, she said, “I would just look at my paycheck and be like, ‘OK. This is OK. I can do this.’”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Journalist Who Participated in COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial Shares Their Story

Major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and now AstraZeneca have been making headlines over the last couple weeks as they release preliminary safety information regarding their respective vaccines for COVID-19. So far, all three parties claim their vaccines are more than 90% effective at blocking new infections of the virus.

While studies show many Americans are still on the fence regarding whether or not they plan on taking a vaccine once it hits the market, tens of thousands of people have already received these drugs as part of the clinical trials process.

Now one of those participants is coming forward with their story. Journalist John Yang, who works for the PBS Newshour, recently shared his experience after taking part in Phase 3 of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

Participating Out of Self-Interest

Yang is considered high risk for serious illness brought on by COVID-19. He’s over the age of 60 and has asthma. When news of the clinical trial first broke earlier this year, Yang says he was eager to sign up. He mailed an application to the closest research site. He soon received a phone call from a woman in the program asking him if he was still interested. He soon became known as “Patient 232”.

For Yang, participating in the clinical trail wasn’t about saving humanity. It was about protecting himself from a mysterious new disease at a time when staying at home wasn’t an option.

As he wrote online, “I wish I could say I did it to help hasten the defeat of the coronavirus or to further science. But I really just wanted a chance to get a vaccine as soon as possible.”

Yang is also Asian. Studies show Asian Americans are more likely to die than white Americans once they are hospitalized for the virus.

Looking back on his experience, he recalls, “I think my ethnicity was a big plus because they really do want to widen these tests to have participants of color and also they wanted to find out if it was safe for people with asthma and people with high blood pressure.”

During the clinical trial, around half of participants are given placebos, or sugar pills, while the other half receive the actual COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers then compare the results to make sure the drug is working as expected.

Yang says he received two shots about a month apart. The drug was administered at George Washington University close to where he lives.

He says the experience “really wasn’t that bad.” He had some fatigue and muscle stiffness, as well as pain around the site of injection, but these are mild symptoms, all of which have been reported by the media with regards to the Moderna vaccine.

After the second shot, he felt the same effects, but “as that came on faster, it also resolved faster. I got the shot on Tuesday. By Thursday, I was fine,” Yang said.

However, as a high-risk individual, Yang says he was relieved when he started feeling the side effects. That meant he likely received the actual vaccine instead of just a placebo.

Yang says he was happy Moderna paid him for his participation in the study. He received $20 to cover each trip to the clinic, $100 for each vaccine injection, $15 for each phone check-up, $5 for each app entry that was used to track his health status, and a $50 bonus for participating in the trial.

As for the Results?

After receiving his shots, Yang asked the study director if he should do anything differently, and the answer was no. Yang was told to keep doing his job as usual, which meant conducting interviews, finding stories for the news, and running errands with a mask on, avoiding large gatherings, and walking his dog.

The director eventually said, “If everyone sits at home and never goes out and no one gets sick, the trial will fail.”

That’s why Yang realized the point of a clinical trial is for people to get sick. If no one gets sick, Moderna wouldn’t know whether the drug was effective. If someone gets sick after receiving the placebo, while other people stay healthy after taking the vaccine, it shows the drug is working properly.

Yang says he’s still free of COVID-19, even though he admits he’s not sure if he received the drug in question. However, he was excited to learn that Moderna plans to administer the drug to everyone who received placebos in the clinical trial, now that the results suggest the drug is 94.5% effective.

For a hard-working journalist like Yang, he’d rather have immunity from the virus than nothing at all. It’s all about giving himself some much-needed peace of mind.

As he wrote online:

“I’m not sure how I would have felt if the vaccine was only slightly effective, or wasn’t effective at all. Fortunately, that’s not something I need to consider. Given my fears about getting Covid-19, I’m happy that I have already gotten Moderna’s effective vaccine, or will get it soon. But I’m also a little bit proud that my participation in the trial furthered science, and may have helped put the coronavirus in check.”

How to Save Money During a Pandemic

With the job market on ice and many bars, restaurants, and movie theaters closed across the country, many people are finding that now is a great time to take the money they would spend at places such as these and save it instead. It’s not clear when the U.S. economy will recover from the coronavirus pandemic or when we will be able to go back to work safely, but until then, it may be best to tighten your pocketbook and save your money for a better day.

Many industries are suffering as the crisis lingers on, including the hospitality, travel, healthcare, and entertainment industries. If you’ve recently lost your job or know someone who has, this is the time to scale back your expenses. Or, if you are holding onto your job but nervous about the future of your finances, you can use this time to save up and build your emergency fund – just in case.

Follow these tips to stay afloat during the pandemic:

  • Set a New Budget

The pandemic has upended spending trends across the country, and the same may be true of your household. Calculate a new budget based on recent economic changes, including your new monthly or weekly expenses and any changes in income. Look for ways to further limit spending during this uncertain time. For example, you could try buying off-brand products, reducing your utility consumption, or cutting out luxuries.

Groceries can be a major expense with everyone hanging out at home. Stock up on cheap basic ingredients like flour, sugar, yeast, and seasonings so you can cook meals from scratch instead of relying on prepared foods, take-out, and overly processed meals, which are expensive.

  • Open a High-Interest Savings Account

Many of us have had to rearrange our personal lives and daily routines in the wake of the pandemic, so take a moment to assess your new lifestyle. Many of the things we used to enjoy are no longer an option. Start saving the money you used to spend on travel and drinks out with friends. A high-interest savings account will help you make the most of the money you earn.

Use your new budget to anticipate how much cash you’ll have on hand going forward. It’s best to plan for the worst, so try to put as much money away as possible in case you lose your job or your state needs to shut down again to slow the spread of the virus.

  • Focus on the Essentials

Things look different when you’re viewing them through the lens of a global pandemic. Priorities can shift, including your spending priorities. Go back through your financial records to see where most of your money has gone in the past. Are you spending too much on rent, alcohol, or even landscaping equipment?

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us to value what’s most important, such as our physical and mental health, civil rights, and the wellbeing of our loved ones. If you’re spending too much money on things that don’t really matter in the long term, consider cutting them out of your life – at least until things return to something like normal.

Look for other ways to spice up your life during the pandemic, such as reading, exercise, volunteering, or a hobby. Choose something that doesn’t involve spending a lot of money on a regular basis.

  • Take Advantage of Local and Government Programs

Americans are feeling the pinch as the pandemic rages on. Some countries have been able to get this deadly disease under control, but others still have a long way to go.

Millions of people have had to go on unemployment, and additional expanded benefits have been debated for months with no foreseeable solution.

If you are having trouble making ends meet, there’s no shame in asking for a little help or taking advantage of low-cost programs. If you lost your job or are making less money, you may qualify for Medicaid and other low-cost health programs.

Talk to your utility providers about reducing your bills. Many companies are offering discounts to customers to keep them connected during the pandemic. You can try lowering your HVAC, internet, electricity, and water usage while you’re at home.

The Federal Reserve has drastically lowered interest rates to keep the economy afloat. Consider taking advantage of low-interest loans or refinancing your mortgage to help free up some extra cash. Student loans are no longer collecting interest, so you can take a break from paying these off for a few months until you get your finances in order.

Keep these tips in mind to help your money go further during the pandemic. Money is sure to be tight in the foreseeable future, but saving a little money today will help you stay sane tomorrow.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and How Can People Cope?

Even though there are many areas of the country that don’t experience the full extent of all four seasons, such as the Southwest and southern Florida, there is no escaping the fact that days are much shorter in December and January than they are in July and August. With that, one does not have to experience leaves changing colors and temperatures plummeting to experience the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

According to Nicole Miele, adjunct professor within the Young School of Nursing at Regis College, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during the fall and winter months and is more than just the winter blues.” 

Miele states that she tends to see the months of January and February as more challenging for most patients, but occasionally sees symptoms start as early as late August. 

This disorder should not be brushed off as a normal case of a winter funk. If you’re feeling lazy, worthless, sad, or a combination of the three, it’s important to seek treatment. There many things you can do to cope with seasonal depression.

Dr. Anita Thomas, Executive Vice President and Provost at St. Catherine University, stated that “there are a number of factors that lead to SAD. The lack of sunlight and exposure to Vitamin D is one cause. Changes in the season can shift circadian rhythms and sleep cycles, and lower serotonin levels which help positive moods. In some cases, it can be hereditary, and in others, mild depressive symptoms become exacerbated by the changing seasons.” 

Identifying the Issue

SAD can affect people at any age, and children and adults with anxiety are most susceptible. This is a disorder that can affect anyone, and it is often hidden from plain view. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms, it’s important to act rather than wait for the seasons to change. Stress can take years off of your life, after all.

Here is a list of symptoms for SAD from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Self-Coping

Building a stronger mind builds a stronger body, and vice versa. SAD affects both the physical and mental aspects of health, so increasing the mind-body connection is a great way to help curb your symptoms at home. Meditation is a great practice for coping with anxiety and depression, and music and art therapy are also easy at-home additions that can help. 

Light therapy is another process to help make the brain think the days are longer. Exposing yourself to a bright light for a good amount of time each day can work hand-in-hand with these other activities. Do note that light box therapy should be ok’d by a doctor first. 

Dr. Tonya Cross-Hansel, an Associate Professor with the Tulane University School of Social Work, told Scrubs that “If any of the above symptoms resonate or you begin to question whether you are experiencing depression or anxiety, the first step is to reach out to a mental health professional. If you do not regularly see a therapist or are in an area with limited access, a call to a hotline is also a good start.” 

The most important thing is to seek help. An entire season can be very disruptive and problematic, lasting upwards of half the year. Symptoms are also likely to worsen over time; it may start out as general malaise and deepen into a critical state that can eventually include suicide ideation. There are many different treatment options that can be discussed with your mental health professional including light therapy, vitamin D supplements, and talk therapy. 

COVID and SAD

“There is an inherent connection between depression (feeling sad or down) and anxiety (worried or fearful),” states Dr. Hansel. “With all of the increased stressors and social isolation that 2020 has brought, those prone to SAD may see symptoms worsen.”

It is without doubt that this is a challenging time for us all, but please check out the list of helpful tips outlined by Professor Miele below: 

  • Maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle. Practice good sleep hygiene and try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Limit naps to no more than 20 minutes per day.
  • Do something you enjoy and get your body moving.
  • Get some sunshine. If it is cold out, bundle up and go outside for a brisk walk or hike in the woods. Research has shown spending up to 2 hours in nature can improve mood. 
  • Talk to a mental health or medical professional about light therapy. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and limit the highly processed, sugary foods we tend to crave this time of year. 
  • Limit alcohol use. Alcohol is a depressant and will only exacerbate symptoms of depression.
  • Safely socialize, and plan a Zoom get-together or movie night with friends or family. 
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation. 
  • Reach out to a mental health professional. Many providers are currently offering telehealth visits.

Key Takeaways

SAD is not something that should just “be tolerated” each year when daylight hours are shortened. It’s critical that anyone suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder get professional help in order to prevent more critical states of mind from developing. This is one disorder that can be less disruptive and impactful when steps are taken to counteract the symptoms that can quickly worsen with the changing seasons.

Did the COVID-19 Lockdowns Fail?

It’s been a tough year for the U.S. in so many ways. The pandemic has ravaged our national health system and the economy teeters with tens of millions of people still out of work. It has been largely up to the states to contain the spread of the virus as they impose new lockdowns and safety guidelines. However, the idea of closing businesses and forcing people to shelter in place has been controversial to say the least. Americans value their freedom, after all, which is why we’ve seen anti-lockdown protests pop up all over the country.

New statistical analysis reveals these lockdowns may not have been as successful as we might have hoped. In some areas, keeping people at home and shutting down businesses might have only made matters worse.

Do Lockdowns Work?

Donald L. Luskin, owner of the analytics firm TrendMacro, which has been studying the effects of state-wide lockdowns, recently shared his findings in The Wall Street Journal.

To analyze the success of these lockdowns, the company calculated the cumulative number of reported cases of COVID-19 in each state and the District of Columbia as a percentage of the population, based on data from state and local health departments aggregated by the COVID Tracking Project.

They then compared the numbers with the timing, duration, and intensity of local shutdown orders. Some states like New York and California issued sweeping stay-at-home orders at the start of the year after suffering some of the worst outbreaks in the country. Other states like North and South Dakota have yet to issue any such orders.

Of course, just because a state issues a mandate doesn’t mean people are going to abide by the rules.

To supplement their data, the researchers also looked at detailed anonymized cellphone tracking data from Google and others. The University of Maryland’s Transportation Institute termed this data a “Social Distancing Index” to show what people were actually doing at the time of the lockdowns. For example, if the data shows several cell phones in close proximity to each other, it shows the researchers that people were still hanging out in large groups despite local shutdown orders.

In terms of the first part of the year when many states were hitting the brakes when it came to economic activity, there was a clear link between stronger lockdowns and greater spread of the virus. According to the report, “The five places with the harshest lockdowns—the District of Columbia, New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts—had the heaviest caseloads.”

As for the second part of the year when many states were looking to reopen their economies in time for summer, researchers found that the states that opened the fastest had the lightest caseloads. The Sunbelt states with the biggest flare-ups during the start of summer, including Arizona, Texas, California, and Florida, still had partial lockdown in place.

What About External Factors?

In theory, keeping people at home should help prevent the spread of the virus, so what are we to make of this new report?

It’s possible that states with the strongest lockdown orders, such as California, Florida, and New York, were already dealing with massive outbreaks, which could help explain why these lockdowns didn’t help stop the spread. However, researchers say that’s not the case. They argue the numbers still hold up even when you remove the worst outbreaks from the data set.

Researchers also claim that variables such as population density, age, race, class, and general health did little to move the needle. The only factor that seemed to have made a discernible difference is the use of public transit.

So, what does all this mean for the fight against COVID-19?

The researchers argue that state-wide lockdowns appear to have little effect on the spread of the virus. Forcing people to stay at home may not help prevent future outbreaks, considering people will find other ways to gather and spread the virus. Likewise, reopening the economy doesn’t seem to be a catalyst for more infections.

This report comes at a time when many governors and local health departments are deciding whether to reimpose lockdowns as infections soar and we get closer to winter. Several cities and states are already issued partial shutdowns to help stop the spread.

However, looking at the data, it’s clear that asking people to stay at home isn’t a magic solution. People can still meet up at home, go to a house party without a mask, and meet up with their elderly loved ones around the holidays regardless of what their governor tells them to do.

Freedom reigns supreme in America, so we’re going to have to spend more time educating individuals and business owners on the dangers of ignoring the latest health and safety information, so they follow the rules voluntarily instead of forcing them to stay at home using a state-wide mandate.

Philadelphia Nurses Strike for Better Working Conditions as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Another group of nurses recently took to the streets to demand safer working conditions, including better pay, a “fair” work contract, and more nurses on the floor, so coronavirus patients can get the care they need amid the ongoing health crisis.

Nearly 800 providers marched outside of St. Mary Medical Center in the Philadelphia area on Tuesday. Nurses on the ground say they blame the owner of the hospital, Trinity Health Systems, for refusing to come to the table to negotiate a better contract. As a not-for-profit Catholic health system, the company operates 92 facilities across the U.S.

This comes right as the city announced a new set of coronavirus restrictions after the daily number of positive cases in the area jumped by more than 700% over the last two months.

Negotiating for Better Pay

The nurses at St. Mary Medical Center have had enough. It’s been nine long months of working around the clock for less money than they could be making at other healthcare facilities. They are represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP).

Union officials said over 240 nurses and providers have left the Philadelphia hospital over the last two years after taking better-paying jobs at nearby hospitals.

As nurse Robert Gentile puts it, “So what happens is, we orient them and then they leave to go to local hospitals and make $6 and $7 more an hour. So, it’s really sad. We’re the most underpaid nurses in Bucks County.”

Hospital officials say they tried to give their nurses a raise as recently as November 13th, but staff members rejected the offer, saying it wouldn’t be enough to recruit and retain the providers necessary to get the pandemic under control.

For the nurses striking, getting a raise is about increasing the number of staff members on the floor. They say they’re being asked to care for seven patients at a time when they should be caring for just three or four.

Nurse Robert Bozek said his colleagues came to the table in good faith that the hospital administrators would recognize their plight: “We were team players. We came up and we met with them and we made sure we would be as safe as we could be at this hospital.”

However, the negotiation process quickly broke down. “Trinity seems not to want to negotiate a fair contract that is safe moving forward, with benefits that we can recruit and retain staff,” Bozek said.

“What that means is the call bells are not being answered,” said nurse Donna Halpern. “There’s a human being behind that call bell with a need and I’ve heard call bells ringing for a half-hour.”

The hospital says many outside providers have been hired over the course of the pandemic, but not all of them stick around for the long haul.

On the Ground in Philadelphia

Nurses marched in front of the hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday to voice their frustration with management. As Halpern put it, “Today, we are standing up for our patients, for our community and ourselves.” Many nurses could be seen holding signs that read “Safe Staffing Saves Lives.”

The event included professionals of all ages and backgrounds. Beth Redwine, who works in obstetrics, showed up at around 7 AM to support her colleagues.

“Truly, the reason we are out here is that, God forbid, they have to come to the hospital, we can give them the care and attention they deserve,” she said, during the march. Redwine says she often finds herself doing the work of a secretary or nursing assistant during her 12-hour shifts because there aren’t enough nurses to go around.

The facility issued a statement in light of the strike, saying, “We respect the union members’ right to strike, and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach agreement on a fair, consistent and sustainable initial contract for St. Mary nurses. We look forward to the day productive negotiations can resume.”

As for the PASNAP nurses who came out to participate in the strike, they won’t be allowed back at work until Sunday. Trinity Health says it needs several days to safely transition work away from the replacement nurses the hospital hired to fill in the gaps during the strike. Administrators say temporary nurses were hired on a five-day contract.

The strike gained attention from the media as well, granting interviews to the many nurses calling for safer staffing ratios. The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on the Philadelphia area over the last few months. It was clear that support and sympathy for the nurses were high. After signing with PASNAP last year, clearly, the nurses at St. Mary Medical Center are ready to stand up for their right to better working conditions. We hope they see the changes they’re fighting for as they continue to stand up for their patients and colleagues.