Dear World,

In the middle of all of this training, helping, teaching, I was told I was non-essential. I was sent home.


We started preparing in mid-February — around Mardi Gras — when we began to hear more about COVID-19. We started to prepare by completing in-time training with PPE with the MICU nurses because the MICU was one of the units we highly anticipated to see the most patients.

We educated, watched nursing perform PPE donning and doffing, and offered tips for those in training. After the nurses were observed, the expectation was that they would turn around and educate their co-workers.

The nurses were so nervous, and I could see the fear in their eyes. They were questioning if the N-95 masks properly fit and  protected them. They were concerned about protective eyewear fogging and ability to smell. I started performing fit testing for masks. I took the initiative and time to reach out to the product company and ask some of those questions for our employees’ health.

I’m a clinical nurse specialist for the ICUs.  My role is to assist with performance improvement, special projects, education/training, and staff development.

During the beginning of COVID, the staff from the education department was used around the hospital to do PPE training, screening at the main entrances, and educate on new updated processes which seemed to change daily. I worked very hard to teach people many different things. Nurses from all different departments were brought in to work the newly formed ICUS. I taught what was necessary to care for the ICU patients..

Then, in the middle of all of this training, helping, teaching, I was told I was non-essential. I was sent home.

How could I be nonessential?

I felt I was an essential member of the ICU team because of the hands-on education and training I was providing.  I was an educator, supplies procurer, and bedside assistant.  We taught and helped these nurses to learn everything they needed to know to be a nurse in the ICU during COVID. We had four ICUs up and running to care for the critically ill COVID patients. Trained to work there by me, but I was considered nonessential.

Nothing has never felt so horrible.

Through the years, I worked at Charity Hospital for a week during Katrina as a supervisor, making sure everyone was cared for, evacuated from hospital and leaving everything in order, including securing patient charts and ensuring all the units were emptied out.

During Ebola, I was one of the key members of the task force who set up protocols for working with our emergency management, developing processes, placing the patients, and setting up the workflow.

I had experience through many disasters, and, yet, here I was, being told I was nonessential.

It stung and I think it did because I know I’m not the only person this has happened to. If you didn’t step up and go into a bedside-type of position, you were sent home. That’s not just happening here. It’s happening everywhere across the country. Nurses in other departments are either stepping in to learn new tasks that I can teach or they’re being sent home.

I felt like I was very essential. I was helping keep things on track and being supportive to the nurses. I focused on outside factors so they could focus on their jobs.

It didn’t take long for a manager to call me and tell me I would start working again. To be fair, a lot of the managers were calling me while I was at home asking me questions.

It felt good to come back. That original feeling of shock and surprise stuck around for a while. I’m a third generation nurse and a third generation hard worker. If I am working on a project, I want to see it through from beginning to end. When they told me I couldn’t come back, it stung.

I love being back, even if I’m still not fully considered essential. My entire career, I’ve always been essential. I still consider myself essential. Even if I’m not at bedside 100% of the time, I’m still supporting those on the frontline. I’m running to get supplies when they need it or helping new nurses learn how to prone a patient.

I do miss being in a “leadership role.” I certainly don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I do find myself still mentoring people. They’re asking for my advice, and I’m enjoying that aspect of it.

All in all, I know now my hospital and managers are very supportive. I am essential. The work I’m doing is helping those who are helping the patients. And that’s all I could really ask for in a job. To help people.


What Is Essential?

Rebecca Barnes


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