The coronavirus pandemic has intensified the national nursing shortage, with facilities across the U.S. desperately in need of more providers. Recent reports show that as the number of COVID-19 infections keeps rising, hospitals in 25 states say they are running dangerously low on staff.
That’s why many states, cities, and facilities have started calling on retired nurses and providers to help fill in the gaps. Bringing experienced nurses and doctors out of retirement can lighten the load for existing providers. Many professionals are now returning to the workforce to help out where they can, including Laura Benson, RN, MS, APN.
As a member of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC), Benson is speaking up about her experiences on the front lines in hopes that other retired providers will answer the call of duty.
Rising to the Challenge
As she writes in an op-ed on ONS Voices, Benson remembers answering the call as soon hospitals started asking for retired healthcare workers. She didn’t hesitate to put her skills to good use, despite having recently hung up her scrubs for good, so she thought.
Benson lives in Rochelle, New York, just a short drive north of NYC, which became the epicenter of the virus back in the spring. She says her state did the responsible thing by asking retired nurses about their licenses and comfort levels before enlisting them for the cause. The state automatically reactivated the licenses for these providers if they were inactive or expired.
At first, Benson says she thought enlisting would mean working around patients with COVID-19 and caring for those on ventilators, which originally gave her pause, but that wasn’t the case.
As an older individual with an increased chance of serious illness, Benson found herself doing contact tracing to help flatten the curve. She would spend hours calling people on the phone telling them they have tested positive for the virus, while collecting information about where they’ve been and asking them to self-isolate for 14 days.
Benson writes online, “My rationale was, if I could free up a currently practicing nurse to be at the bedside of a patient with COVID-19, then I would be a success. I would have contributed to the fight.”
Soon after, she was asked to go to Westchester County to help run a new child care clinic for front line workers and providers inside a local YWCA. The facility staff was there to look after the kids of these professionals, so they would be free to go to work without worrying about childcare.
For her part, Benson managed the clinic’s single point of entry, which meant taking people’s temperatures, verifying IDs, and completing healthcare screenings and questionnaires to minimize the chances of exposure and transmission.
Recalling the experience online, she wrote, “The first parent who arrived, a single mom who was an RN at a local hospital, told me she has not been able to go to work for the past two weeks because she had no one to care for her son. And by filling the role at the daycare center, I also helped a public health nurse to return to her true and much-needed position.”
Filling in during the pandemic has been a truly rewarding experience for Benson and other recently retired providers. While she admits she’s not sure where her journey goes from here, she’s confident she made the right decision.
Benson wrote the piece to encourage other retired providers to follow in her footsteps. She is here to remind folks that coming out of retirement doesn’t mean working around infectious patients or putting their health and safety at risk.
As she writes online, “For anyone who is holding back because of this, please reconsider. I do not know if I will remain at the YWCA or be assigned a new task. I do not know what I will be asked to do next. But I know whatever it is, I will try.”
Over the course of her career, Benson has been a champion of nurses. She’s the Oncology Nursing Society’s representative on the Nurses on Boards Coalition, where she continues to advocate for the rights and needs of everyday nurses. Having nurses serve on state and local boards of health is key to making sure these providers are well represented in the industry.
Her story has already appeared in the Wall Street Journal and a number of notable media outlets. It’s an important message that continues to resonate to this day.
In honor of 2020: The Year of the Nurse and Midwife, Benson ends the piece with a quote from the one and only Florence Nightingale:
“And as a ‘missioner of health’ I will dedicate myself to devoted service for human welfare.”