Life of an Essential Worker during COVID-19

May 9, 2020

It’s an understatement to say that the pandemic has hit our world hard. About 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment within the past couple months, according to the New York Times. And while some may envy them for their ability to work, essential workers are struggling too during this time.  They are required to work adjusted or longer hours, plus put their communities’ needs before their own. 

Troy Hayes is a nurse practitioner at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center. Hayes usually works in general surgery, but is also trained in orthopedics, urology, and podiatry. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak, his services have been especially crucial. 

The onset of the COVID-19 situation has changed my day-to-day responsibilities fairly drastically.  Our VA hospital has been tasked to prepare to take care of COVID-19 patients from within our Veteran population, as well as from the community in general, should local hospitals become overwhelmed with patients,” Hayes explained. A huge change throughout the hospital has been the enforcement of personal protective equipment, or PPE. If not worn properly or taken off correctly, major consequences can occur, putting more lives at risk. This is where Troy comes in.

“My new assignment during this COVID-19 has been to design and implement a structured program where healthcare workers are supervised during donning of PPE prior to caring for infected patients, and subsequent doffing of PPE after exposure to infected patients.

“I am following guidelines put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The process has been very complex, and has involved the creation of designated PPE donning and doffing areas, assembling a stockpile of PPE in those areas, preparing certain individuals to be “trained observers” to guide healthcare workers through the putting on and taking off PPE, training healthcare workers themselves in proper PPE usage, developing procedures for disposal of contaminated PPE, as well as disinfecting reusable PPE.” 

Working at a hospital, especially while a pandemic is raging appears to be a nightmare to many of us. Extra exposure means more precautions need to be taken, as the disease is incredibly infectious. Yet, Hayes is grateful for the experience. 

“Health care professionals understand there are certain risks associated with their jobs, particularly during an outbreak of an infectious disease.   Working in a hospital, caring for our Veterans, and potentially others in the community, is an honor during these uncertain times.  I am particularly honored to be involved in developing processes that help keep our healthcare workers safe.  Infected healthcare workers must necessarily be taken out of the workforce while they recuperate, thus taking them “out of the fight”, so to speak.  Thus, it is crucial we do everything we can to help keep them healthy, and I am proud to do my part.”

While there will always be a risk, health care workers are passionate about what they do and want to help their communities more than anything. When asked if he’d like to share anything with his community, Hayes replied, “I feel the healthcare system as a whole, here in our community, is prepared to handle the current situation.  I strongly encourage resiliency, rather than fear.  Do your part: look out for each other, wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, eat healthy, get some exercise, get some fresh air (while following local and state guidelines for social distancing, of course) and, perhaps most importantly,  know that we are all in this together, and we will get through this.”

Of course, many of us are fearful lately. But we must remember that many men and women are doing their part to keep us safe and healthy and have the situation under control. We must hold on to hope and know that this will end soon. So, when you get a chance, make sure to thank an essential worker. 


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