Vigil honors Frontline Workers impacted by COVID-19

Emily Ness
Updated: May 02, 2020 06:43 PM

Candles were lit on the steps of the state capital Friday evening for the brave men and women who have been working to save lives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vigil—organized by the Minnesota Nurses Association—aimed to recognize nurses, fire fighters and frontline workers who have been quarantined, hospitalized or killed as a result of their dedication to treating patients with COVID-19.

At the vigil, ongoing concerns surrounding personal protective equipment were brought up—something Minnesota hospitals, along with hospitals across the nation have been working hard to obtain.

“We’ve worked very hard to make sure we stay up to date with guidance from our Minnesota Department of Health, the CDC and that we’re constantly making sure we have the protective equipment for our staff,” Pat DeLong, Chief Nursing Officer at St. Joseph’s in Brainerd said.

In addition to medical professionals, frontline workers like fire fighters and EMT’s were honored at the vigil.

“We’ve had firefighters, we’ve had doctors, we’ve had first responders, EMT’s, we’ve had nurses that have been positive with COVID,” MNA St. Luke’s Bargaining Unit Co-Chair Pete Boyechko said. “Talking with my colleagues across the state—it definitely still is an issue statewide.”

During the vigil, leaders of the Minnesota Nurses Association advocated for adequate personal protective equipment for all battling COVID-19—something one Minnesota nurse said could mean the difference between life and death.

“We’re afraid, we don’t have enough PPE. We wish there was more, but we’re still going to be there for the community. We care about our community. Our community is our families and we don’t know who’s going to come through the door, but we’re going to show up,” Tonya Moss, member of the Minnesota Nurses Association said.

Moss, who works as a nurse at Sanford Medical Clinic in Bemidji said hospitals across the state are reusing masks for more than one day—sometimes up to five days. Moss said she realizes this isn’t an easy problem to fix, but maintains that nurses should be given adequate personal protective equipment to protect themselves, as well as, their colleagues, patients and families.

“Nobody knows how to fix the problem and we need somebody to help us fix the problem so that we don’t feel that our lives are just nothing, you know. My life should be important and my friend’s lives should be important,” Moss said.

Pete Boyechko, who is a registered nurse at St. Luke’s in addition to being the MNA St. Luke’s Bargaining Unit Co-Chair said masks should be changed regularly. Additionally, he added that the CDC recommends medical professionals wear a face shield, an N-95 mask or higher, goggles and an isolation gown. According to Boyechko, the Minnesota Nurses Association hopes the state will utilize reserves of N-95 masks should they have to.

“We recognize that the state has approximately 300,000 N-95’s in the state reserves,” Boyechko said. “I think that the state and I echo what MNA is saying as an organization—that the state should look at releasing those out to the areas that need them.”

Here in the Northland, St. Luke’s and Essential Health are working to obtain 10,000 masks in addition to the homemade masks that were recently donated to them. And, across the state, other hospitals are also asking for donations to aid them during this time of high demand.

“We’ve all worked very, very hard to prepare to make sure we have enough of the supplies and equipment we need for our staff to be safe while they’re caring for patients and we all know from reading the news every day how challenging that has been across the nation and the world,” DeLong said. “We value the nurses in every one of our organizations. Nurses are at the heart of health care and we are committed to caring for them and making sure that they are safe in the workplace.”

In addition to shedding light on these ongoing issues, Friday’s vigil as a whole, aimed to recognize and appreciate the immense sacrifices frontline workers have made to keep us all safe.

“None of us go into medicine for the notoriety. It’s a calling we have. It’s great that the public recognizes the sacrifices that my coworkers and colleagues not only at Grand Itasca, but across the state and the country are living through right now,” Dr. Dan Soular, Vice President of Medical Affairs & Family Medicine Physician at Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital said.

“Whether it’s these vigils to recognize the sacrifice that people have been through or whether it’s making masks. You know, we continue to get masks daily from the community. It's little things like that—getting meals sent to us, getting artwork from some of the grade schools in town,” Soular said.

A link to the Minnesota Nurse’s Association’s vigil can be found here.

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Emily Ness

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