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Healthcare Workers Frustrated By 'Limited Resources' And Anxious About COVID-19's Reach

Mary Rose Madden

While many Marylanders are social distancing or self-isolating during this time of the novel coronavirus outbreak, hospital healthcare workers are testing and treating patients at an accelerated rate, under utterly stressful circumstances. 

Healthcare personnel at Johns Hopkins Hospital are now doing approximately three hundred tests a day for COVID-19. At least three patients who have tested positive for the virus are being cared for at the hospital, each in an isolated room. 

That's put a strain on her and her staff, says Dr. Sara Keller is an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"There’s a lot of anxiety out there, both on healthcare workers worrying that they might get sick and expose a patient or a family member," she explains.

She says she spends her days caring for medium and high risk patients at the hospital and says she and her colleagues are responding to the crisis the best they can but wonders, "What are healthcare workers supposed to do with their children? In my case, our children are with my parents. Do I worry about them? Yes, I do."

At this time, all the healthcare workers sleep at their own homes, but, she points out, some wonder if they should follow the practice of their counterparts in China.

"They were having the healthcare workers stay in a hotel near a hospital. We're not there yet, but we've considered doing things like that," Keller says.

Meanwhile, the hospital staff has ramped up its capability to care for inpatient needs: converting two floors into a bio-containment unit to limit the chances that any infection may spread outside the unit.

Albert Wu, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-founded a program that provides emotional support to healthcare workers. The program is called RISE - which stands for Resilience In Stressful Events. So, these days, he spends his time at the hospital too - helping to plan and get control of the situation at hand.

"We are only now beginning to see infected patients," he says. 

Healthcare workers are used to taking care of sick people, but all the same, Wu says, it’s hard to avoid being somewhat afraid. He says he often hears concern and questions about this virus' spread. 

"Are they exposed to infection? Is it safe to be doing their jobs? What if they infect a family member or someone else outside of work?" 

At the same time, he says, doctors, nurses and lab techs are working with a very real shortage of supplies and crucial equipment.  "[Healthcare workers] are frustrated and feel constrained that we have limited resources," he says. 

"At any given time, we have limited inventory of things. For a while, we had a shortage of respirator masks for example." Dr. Wu says they were rationing the respirators. 

Also, healthcare workers were extremely frustrated that testing was not available as widely as needed. 

Dr. Keller says she sees the shortage of personal protective equipment getting worse. Some medical students are making face shields like “an old fashioned craft project,” she says.

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