Around the world, Healthcare workers are the heroes on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are making major sacrifices in an effort to care for the surge of patients who have contracted the coronavirus, in addition to their normal patient load. Healthcare workers are fatigued, stressed, overwhelmed, and afraid as they witness the devastation of this pandemic up close. And for one nurse in Albany, GA, this week, that tension came to a head.
Albany, a COVID-19 hotbed in South Georgia, is currently reporting about a quarter of the state’s coronavirus cases, with more than 16 individuals succumbing to the virus at last calculation. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital located there is filled with “critically ill Covid-19 patients,” according to CNN. The hospital currently has turned its pediatric wing into a coronavirus only floor. They have three ICU’s filled with Coronavirus patients,and have been forced to open a fourth ICU for non-coronavirus patients.
On Wednesday, what was scheduled to be a 12-hour shift at Phoebe Putney for Melissa Thomas-Scott, a registered nurse who worked in the hospital’s acute care area, ended up being cut short when the the 39-year-old mother of five resigned from her position via Facebook live. After she clocked in, Melissa was told her night shift would be worked on a “Corona floor,” causing her to immediately quit her job. In the emotional video which has since gone viral, Melissa explained her manager knows “I have kids at home who I can’t send away to stay away from me,” she aid noting the social-distancing and quarantine rules required when exposed to the virus. “She knows my health history,” Melissa went on to say. “I quit. I care about the patients and all but my family and my life, they matter. They come first.”
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa about the incident that has sparked much debate and gives life to the fear that has been induced in everyone by the Coronavirus pandemic. During the conversation, which lasted more than an hour, Melissa was extremely emotional and couldn’t talk about the situation without crying. Repeatedly, she stressed how much she “loves being a nurse” and “loved working at Pheobe.”
While many are side-eyeing Melissa for her actions, citing her responsibility to serve as a healthcare worker. It’s important to understand several things about the RN before you judge her or take sides. The first being that Melissa is a member of the immunocompromised community whom both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control say are at a higher risk of succumbing to COVID-19.
“I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when I was 31 years old,” Melissa shared. It was in April 2012, it is a very rare form, Stage 2A Triple Negative and it required extremely intense treatment.”
Additionally, Melissa currently has four children between the ages of 1 and 17 living in her home whom she cares for by herself.
“I am happily married but my husband is currently working on the west coast which means I am all my babies have here.” With Melissa’s immediate family being unable to assist her for a variety of reasons, she tearfully admitted, “The thought of contracting the Coronavirus or being quarantined away from my children is frightening. Hell, I was sick with the flu last month and my baby ended up with a diaper rash because my 17-year-old didn’t want to change diapers.”
With the growth of the pandemic, hospitals lack the supplies needed to assure healthcare workers and staff remain safe. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing a plea for aid, so much so that designers, fashion houses and major brands have halted production on those item and begun producing medical supplies. Phoebe Putney has reportedly gone through six months’ worth of supplies in one week.
“I have had to reuse my N95 mask due to the shortage and this situation is not unique because our supplies are very limited,” Melissa shared pointing out that she’s not the only one to walk off the job. “Other workers are quitting too, thanks to poor leadership and inconsiderate acts by upper management.”
While the live video Melissa posted may give the impression quitting was a rash decision, the reality is the floor assignment was more like the last straw.
“I was assigned to work that particular area in an attempt to push my buttons again.” she stated. “A week prior to this incident, my supervisor and I exchanged words because she excluded me from an email communication notifying nurses that a patient we were treating tested positive for the coronavirus. The email notification is one that should be sent to each of us each time we make contact with a patient whose Covid-19 test returns positive. However, I never received an email and when I asked her about it after another nurse informed me, she was really sarcastic.”
I, like many, have questioned rather or not I would have taken my grievances to social media in the heat of the moment as Melissa did and she, too, admitted she somewhat “regrets” doing so. However, as an immunocompromised individual and a single mother, I can relate to her fear. Honestly, who among us can’t relate in some manner to the threat of a disease that offers so few answers to so many questions?