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Nurses share experiences and lessons learned during the height of the COVID-19 spread in SKN

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): On the heels of International Nurses Day, WINN FM had the chance to speak with two registered nurses who work at the Joseph N France General Hospital about their experience as front line workers during the start and height of the pandemic.

The male nurse our news team spoke with said his first concern while operating as a frontline worker was his and his family’s safety which prompted his early acceptance of the vaccine. Nurse Montgomery also said there was some level of assurance because of the COVID-19 protocols that existed at the hospital for their protection.

Nurse Montgomery did admit that he caught the COVID-19 virus multiple times.

“I can’t speak of my COVID-19 experience and not highlight the fact that I contracted COVID at least twice. Where along the time period it happened, I wouldn’t be able to say. But I guess for me, my experience with it was somewhat minimal in comparison to others. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I was actually vaccinated.”

He explained that at the JNF General Hospital, their Accident and Emergency (A&E) services were split into two units the respiratory unit, which dealt specifically with respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 and JNF accident and emergency, which dealt with other ailments.

While there was a delineation of the units’ responsibilities, Nurse Montgomery indicated that he dealt with patients who should have been tended to by the respiratory unit.

“Much of my interactions I had with some patients who came through regular A&E turned out to being patients who needed to be on the respiratory side because you would see patients… we triage the patients and st the end of a few questions you find out okay, this patient probably needs to be seen in the Respiratory Unit.”

When asked what was most illuminating during the pandemic, the second nurse WINN spoke with asked not to be named and indicated that while a lesson was learnt, the practice did not stick.

“What was illuminating was how the healthcare system was used, how it was prioritised by those numbers of the community. A lot of the cases that we typically saw coming to whether the health centres or the outputs hospitals or even JNF stopped because they were not a priority, and it was a lot of stuff that could have been handled via telemedicine and the good old healthcare system that we had where mothers and grandmothers, parents on a whole would actually care for their children; bumps and bruises didn’t come to the hospital. And I feel like that is a lesson that we should have learned, but as soon as the pandemic fizzles out, so to speak, we’re back to the same old ways, and I think that that is something we should have learned.”

However, she indicated that the pandemic did bring some humanity back into the social climate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced us as a people to see each other, to look at our neighbours, our friends, and family members and to be more supportive. Yes, it brought with it some fear and negativity but as a community, of not just frontline workers, but as a nation, as a culture, as a people, we rose above it, we showed compassion, and we survived.”

Nurse Montgomery shared what was most rewarding about the experience despite the loss of life.

“I think what was rewarding about the entire thing or the entire experience is that you would triage patients, they come through A&E, and then they would have to be admitted to [the] unit, and you care for them on the unit, and you see them transition from being infected with COVID to being healthy, and they go home and return to their families, and we had a lot of instances where patients are able to do that.”

Neither of the nurses spoke of any struggles with mental health or desires to leave the professions, which are regional and international concerns when talking about people who worked in the healthcare system during the pandemic.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) reported that healthcare workers’ mental health had been negatively affected, causing the healthcare professionals to leave the field for more stable working conditions.

PAHO conducted a COVID-19 Healthcare Workers Study and launched a Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 to address the mental health shortfall in the regional health systems concerning the mental health of frontline workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated a shortage of nurses globally.

There is a campaign to encourage individuals to join the nursing fraternity in the Federation by offering scholarship incentives to increase the number of nurses in the Federation. There are currently 142 registered nurses in St. Kitts and Nevis.

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