On Tuesday, July 21, Senators, Congressmen and women, and passerby could not ignore the 164 pairs of traditionally stark white nurses’ shoes that lined the U.S. Capitol’s lawn.
The shoes–placed by National Nurses United (NNU)–represent the 164 nurse lives lost to COVID-19. Only two months ago, the number of shoes placed was 88. While spreading awareness for the act, the NNU solemnly read aloud the full list of the names of 164 RNs who have died of COVID-19 while caring for their patients, a reminder of the people behind the mask who have sacrificed everything. On their Facebook page, the NNU shared photos of the event, explaining that nurses gathered to honor their fallen peers’ lives, while also calling for better protection for Registered Nurses on the frontlines through the HEROES Act.
What is the HEROES Act?
The NNU is pleading for the Senate to pass the HEROES Act, which they explain would invoke the Defense Production Act in order to mass-produce personal protective equipment, as well as also create an emergency temporary standard to protect essential workers on the frontlines of the virus.
HEROES stands for Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act and was introduced to the Senate in May. According to the bill’s description, it aims to pass a host of other extensive measures in the wake of COVID, such as additional individual economic stimulus payments, expanded sick and medical leave, unemployment, increased COVID-testing and grants to allow pandemic premium pay for essential workers. The bill also modifies or expands a wide range of federal programs, affecting everything from immigration programs to broadband service to prisons and even the election.
The HEROES Act passed in the House and is currently up for a vote in the Senate, and while it stands to introduce a wide host of protective measures for individuals, the economy, and essential workers, the NNU supports the bill as a way to help ensure more protection for RNs on the frontlines. They have called for #NoMoreNurseDeaths with their vigil and awareness events.
“There are no words that can fully express the anger and the sadness I feel this morning,” National Nurses United union’s Stephanie Simms told ABC News of the nurse lives lost to the pandemic. “Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. All gone,” she added.
Healthcare Workers at Risk
And those mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters lost to fighting the novel coronavirus aren’t limited to nurses alone–The Guardian and Kaiser Health News are documenting the lives of healthcare workers lost to COVID and so far, has identified over 821 healthcare workers who have died because of the pandemic.
MedPage Today has even been keeping an online remembrance page, where loved ones can add the lost individual’s name. The long list is sobering to take in, with names, specialties and locations laid out in stark reality. The losses include healthcare workers from physicians to traveling nurses to patient technicians and transporters.
And what’s even more sobering is for all of us who are left to wonder if their deaths could have been preventable. Did these workers have the PPE they needed? Was the risks to their own health downplayed at the beginning of the pandemic? Did hospitals and facilities have the right protections for workers in place? We just don’t know, but many are vowing that future healthcare workers won’t have to wonder.
Nurses Speak on the Act
On the NNU’s Facebook page, there were mixed reactions from commenters on how they felt about the HEROES act. Some voiced support for the bill, while others cautioned that it wasn’t just about protecting nurses.
“I support the original bill,” said one commenter. “I do NOT support the pork add ons. When the House adds other items to sneak them through it creates controversy. Clean it back up, stop the political games, and whistle it through. We need more PPE.”
“It is not only our responsibility but it is our obligation and duty to make certain that our nurses have the proper PPEs and all and everything else that will aid them in fighting this COVID-19 virus,” commented a bill supporter. “We need the Senate to pass the HEROES Bill, period. It’s not only the competent thing to do, but the compassionate and humane one. If the Senate is willing to cut taxes for big corporations and give bailout money without hesitation to the rich and richest, there should be no excuse for taking care of our nurses and medical community.”
Others were moved by the NNU’s actions to honor the lives lost. “I am a retired Nurse of only 9 months and my heart is breaking as I hear you read out loud the names of our Fallen Heroes,” one RN said. “Stand strong and stay safe! Thank you for speaking up for those who can’t.”
While the House will vote on the HEROES Act this week, the NNU is also urging nurses and concerned individuals to sign their petition to urge for more protections for nurses.
And whether increased protection comes in the form of the HEROES Act or another measure, we can all agree that supporting nurses and healthcare workers more effectively so they can do their jobs safely is a good thing. Because no nurse should fear for their own life in order to save another.
*Originally posted at https://nurse.org/articles/nurse-shoes-capitol-lawn-covid/