By Bart Valdez
CEO, Fastaff Travel Nursing & U.S. Nursing Corporation
With the outbreak of coronavirus cases topping 1.5 million cases globally, our entire world has been turned upside down. While reports of a decelerated rate in epicenters like New York and Washington State are encouraging, the rapid spread of the virus to emerging hotspots in the Midwest and South continues to strain the collective faith of the nation.
Our business is in the unique position of having insight into developing hotspots based on accelerating orders from specific regions. For example, in the final week of February our orders for experienced critical care travel nurses spiked in California and Washington, and New York followed quickly in the first week of March. Then orders from Massachusetts, Illinois and Louisiana escalated during the second half of March foreshadowing new hotspots. Now, in this second week of April, our New Jersey and Connecticut clients are urgently requesting more nurses indicating growing risk in those communities as well.
But the thing I think about more than anything are the people behind those numbers.
I remain in awe of and draw inspiration from the healthcare professionals we employ at Fastaff Travel Nursing. When our first coronavirus order came in on February 28, it took mere hours to identify and secure experienced ICU and ER nurses who were eager to help and courageously packed their bags to arrive on site within 48 hours. They replaced nurses in northern California who had to be quarantined due to suspected exposure. These travelers had no hesitation. No fear.
At that time, the contagion was the most frightening part of COVID-19. Then, after a week of hospital census spiking dramatically, a shortage of personal protective equipment threatened to topple efforts and endanger healthcare providers. And more recently, we have all learned more than we ever wanted to know about ventilators and the N95 mask, but mostly we have learned that there aren’t enough of them.
And yet, the nurses continue to run into this novel coronavirus fire. Recently, one of our nurse leaders was working at a New York hospital and was exposed to COVID -19, requiring her to endure a two-week quarantine. She is feeling fine, thank goodness, and was released last week. She is already back on the front lines at another hospital in New York City.
When asked about going back to work in the nation’s largest hotbed of coronavirus activity, this hero said, “It’s my duty. It’s my job. I’m a nurse.“
It’s impossible not to be inspired by these healthcare professionals: not only the doctors and nurses, but also the hospital maintenance staffs, ambulance drivers, food preparation teams, and all of the support crews who face the day not knowing what to expect, but fearlessly bringing their best to bear.
On behalf of my team at Fastaff I want to say thank you for everything you are doing to fight this terrible virus.
A Team Ready To Fight
As leaders of companies, we must be ready for the unknown. We started paying attention to the coronavirus on January 21 of this year. As those first few weeks passed, it started to remind us of Ebola, which our nurses helped fight in New York in 2014. With that memory fresh in our minds, and as the inevitability of worldwide spread became apparent, we mobilized.
We formed an internal task force on February 26 and launched online resource pages for nurses and clients days later. We redeployed internal resources and accelerated our credentialing processes so that more nurses would be travel-ready within a moment’s notice. Each business leader established a contingency plan to handle two to three times demand from our clients.
When that first order came in from a long-time valued client in northern California on a Friday in late February, we were ready, and the nurses started work on Monday. Within a week, we were doing the same in Washington State, and it snowballed from there.
While our internal operations heated up, the virus continued its unwelcome spread everywhere, even in our headquartered city of Denver. After a test-run of a full team work from home day in early March, we began to think proactively about doing our part to prevent the spread in Colorado.
When we closed our offices on March 16 and sent everyone to work from home, I have to admit I had an uneasy feeling. It was a first in the company’s history to go completely virtual. And in the worst public health emergency in a lifetime, I knew we couldn’t lose one minute of productivity in delivering critical care providers to our hospital clients, partners and friends. Now was not the time to experiment.
But crisis management is what this company was built on 30 years ago, it’s what we are operationally designed for, and it is in the DNA of our employees. Hurricanes, fires, strikes, Ebola, and now COVID 19. It seems strange to say, but crises are our sweet spot.
So, productivity did not slow down, it sped up. With orders three times higher than a normal flu season, I am proud to say we didn’t miss a beat, and our nurses are still hitting the ground running across the country in mere days.
We have less than 200 corporate employees but we are tenacious and driven, and contributing every day to the nation’s need to solve this pandemic through quality patient care. I am proud of my team, and feel very lucky to be in a company and in a job that is at the forefront of this fight.
Even though Jan 21 is barely three months ago, it seems a lifetime of change has happened. The impact has most likely touched more people in less time than any other event in the last five decades, and hopefully, brought us all closer.
I have found inspiration in the ability of Americans to come together with industrious solutions to alleviate the equipment shortages and provide us with what we need to survive. No: THRIVE.
Most people are not even aware that America is in the midst of a compounding nursing shortage. Retirement of the Baby Boomers, the aging population and the increased prevalence of chronic conditions requiring more care have all contributed. COVID-19 has further increased the need, and I am extremely proud to be leading a team of dedicated warriors connecting healthcare providers with hospitals in need.
I also can’t help but wonder if the present focus on how critical nurses are will inspire a new generation of young people to take up this profession. One can only hope.
In the meantime, as our nurses deploy to every region in America, and our orders grow in the triple digits daily, registered nurses continue to actively apply for these uncertain positions in record numbers.
With over three million registered nurses in America, and the fortitude I have seen them demonstrate, I know that we will ensure quality patient care to beat this together. We will come out of this strange time in our lives with a new appreciation for our healthcare providers, a new appreciation for hand sanitizer, and a new recognition of the fact that once again, the American spirit proves indomitable.