Health Care Workers | St. Louis Public Radio

Health Care Workers

Respiratory therapist Melissa Delavara cares for COVID-19 patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Researchers at Washington University are launching a clinical trial of 30,000 health care workers to test if the drug chloroquine prevents COVID-19 infection.
Matt Miller | Washington University

Washington University researchers are launching an international study to test whether the drug chloroquine can prevent coronavirus infection.

Chloroquine and the closely related hydroxychloroquine have been used for decades for the prevention and treatment of malaria. But researchers are now examining whether the former might also be useful in the global fight against COVID-19. The collaborative team spanning four continents will enroll tens of thousands of health care workers in the clinical trial.

Cynthia Whitfield, a nursing home worker at Grand Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation, who passed away on April 21, 2020.
Jasmine Whitfield

When the coronavirus began spreading in Missouri, Jasmine Whitfield remembers how scared her mother was. 

Cynthia Whitfield, 58, was a certified medication technician at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in St. Louis’ Grand Center. Since March, dozens of nursing home workers and residents in the St. Louis region have tested positive for the coronavirus. Whitfield was one of them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that health care workers interacting with a coronavirus patient wear a heavy-duty mask called an N95 respirator.
michael_swan | Flickr

At the St. Louis hospital where Emma Crocker works as a registered nurse, only employees working in areas with confirmed COVID-19 patients, like the emergency room and the ICU, were given N95 masks from the hospital’s collection. 

“The CDC, when they first came out, recommended the use of N95 masks for every health care worker, but we know that there’s a shortage — there’s a limited supply, which is actually what’s hindering us the most right now,” said Crocker.

N95 masks are in short supply across the country, and the hospital said they were conserving their supply.

Anthony Brooks, third-year medical student at Washington University, calls a patient to tell them they have tested negative for COVID-19. Though most are not able to care directly for coronavirus patients, many med students are helping in other ways.
Bruin Pollard | Washington University

Cyrus Ghaznavi is supposed to be studying for his final exams — but like other students, he’s having trouble focusing in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“It feels so insignificant to be studying out of a textbook, when on the front lines, health care is basically evolving at a mile a minute,” said Ghaznavi, a medical student at Washington University. 

As the virus spreads rapidly through cities, many medical students have been pulled from their clinical rotations due to worries over possible exposure. While not able to care for COVID-19 patients, a growing number of med students in St. Louis are volunteering to help in other ways.

New nurse Becky Boesch looks through files as part of her job as a nurse in the cardiac step-down unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Board of Nursing has approved expanding five of the state’s nursing programs, adding 250 slots for future students.

State officials say the move aims to help reduce nursing vacancies. The profession has one of the highest vacancy rates in the health sector, with 13 percent of positions unfilled in Missouri, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On nurse Jordan McNab’s first day at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in 2017, a patient stopped breathing. She had to immediately start giving him CPR.

“I vividly remember with my hands on a chest and going too fast,” she said. “You just can’t prepare for it.”

For many beginning nurses, the stress of a new job can be particularly acute. Dealing daily with life, death and illness along with normal new job strain can put them at risk of burnout during the transition from school to work.

To help new nurses deal with stress and keep them in the workforce, the region’s hospitals have developed nurse residency programs that focus on their well-being.

Medical assistant Raquis Tyler, Dr. Heidi Miller and nurse Cindi Boehm discuss treatment plans for patients at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.
File photo | Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

Two years ago, registered nurse Amanda Sommer decided she had had enough. She was working as a bedside nurse in a large St. Louis hospital, floating among different departments and taking care of half a dozen patients for 12-hour shifts. Because of staff shortages, her manager often scheduled her to work both nights and days, and the lack of routine was wearing on her.

Sommer left that hospital in 2016 and worked as a home health nurse before leaving the workforce to start a family. She’s one of many health workers who have left their job in recent years. According to a report from the Missouri Hospital Association, health workers are increasingly leaving their jobs. Nearly 18 percent of workers in Missouri and metro east hospitals surveyed by the association left their jobs in 2017, up from 16 percent the year before.

Washington University announced a medical apprenticeship program, which will teach medical assistants to draw blood and do other clinical tasks.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Washington University has announced it will begin hiring apprentices this fall to work as medical assistants in clinics in the St. Louis region.

Apprenticeships combine on-the-job learning with more traditional instruction. The university’s announcement reflects the growing popularity of such programs in the health care industry.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 19, 2009 - Given their proximity to people with illnesses, health-care workers are often the first in line for seasonal flu shots. This fall, many doctors, nurses and hospital administrators will also be among the first to receive the H1N1 vaccine, even as it arrives more gradually than originally anticipated.