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Hundreds of Nurses Reassigned to Meet COVID-19 Needs

Since January Surge in COVID-19, Nurses Throughout the Cedars-Sinai Health System Have Been Redeployed to the Medical Center to Assist Patients

Leslie Nigos, RN, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center nurse for 13 years, was caring for short-stay cardiac patients and looking for a change. So she transferred to the Labor and Delivery Unit and was excited to start a new career path.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Southern California and Nigos got more of a change than she bargained for.

"I transferred to Labor and Delivery in November, by early-December I was redeployed, and on Christmas Eve, my career would forever be shifted when my unit was transformed to a COVID unit," Nigos said.

Nigos is not alone as Cedars-Sinai, like other hospitals and healthcare systems, works to expand the nursing capabilities while handling an increased COVID-19 patient load. To meet the demand, experienced nurses throughout the health system are being reassigned to care for patients in COVID-19 units. Cedars-Sinai also has hired dozens of student nurses to serve as nursing aides and brought in freelance registered nurses–called travelers–from across the country.

"While some days are longer and harder than others, in the long run, I feel like I'm helping the hospital because that's one less nurse to have to find to staff the unit," said Nigos. "We are all in this together and we all know what it's like. We work as a team because that's the only way we're going to get through this crisis."

The crisis has caused a significant strain on health systems, dramatically altering the landscape of care. Hospitals across the country have faced unprecedent strains, particularly in intensive care units that are at or above capacity.

Maintaining the high volume of seriously ill patients has ripple effects throughout the organization—from respiratory therapy and pharmacy to pathology labs and medical imaging. Intensive care patients require a higher nurse-to-patient ratio, which can cause nurses in other areas to feel more stress.

"Nurses' dedication and resourcefulness are evident every day," said David Marshall, JD, DNP, RN, senior vice president and chief nursing executive at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, "but the pandemic is testing all healthcare workers in ways never imagined and is creating increased strain on hospital resources, including staffing."

Veteran nurses aren't the only ones who have stepped up. As COVID-19 continues to surge to numbers never seen before, leaders in the Geri and Richard Brawerman Nursing Institute at Cedars-Sinai sent out a call to current student nurses interested in assisting in areas of critical need. The response was enthusiastic.

"We couldn't stop the floodgates," said Margo Minissian, PhD, ACNP, executive director of the Brawerman Nursing Institute and the Simms/Mann Family Foundation Chair in Nurse Education, Innovation and Research. "Within one week we received over 1,200 applications."

Student nurses at Cedars-Sinai are now being assigned to support registered nurses, and Minissian believes the experience will benefit the student nurses and the health system for years to come.

"COVID-19 will continue to affect our community, likely for quite some time," Minissian said. "This is going to impact and inform these nurses' careers, and under the guidance of nurse educators, we hope it will help better prepare them for their future in nursing."

Nurse educators, who have also been deployed to provide support to COVID-19 units, round on floors daily, address any issues and provide COVID-19 resources and information to units and traveling nurses who may not be accustomed to treating COVID-19 patients.

Minissian says that all the added relief is helping, and that staff members have told her they feel like the cavalry has come.

"Nurses continue to show their agility in transforming care as needed to respond to the ever-changing needs of our patients and our organization. They do not want sit on the sidelines; they want to be part of the solution," said Minissian.

Read more from the Cedars-Sinai Blog: On the Front Lines of COVID-19