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Coronavirus In Ohio: Furloughed Nurses Sit On Sidelines While Others Work Overtime

Registered Nurse Janice Tatonetti, right, takes the temperature of Harry Pearson before he votes in Ohio's primary election at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak
/
Associated Press
Registered Nurse Janice Tatonetti, right, takes the temperature of Harry Pearson before he votes in Ohio's primary election at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland.

The nurse I’m speaking with over Zoom is rolling dough while her kids play in the background. She’s making three loaves of bread.

“I’m used to doing like a million things at once, so I can talk,” she assures me.

The nurse asked not to be named because she is not authorized to speak with media. She’s a nurse auditor for a company that owns home health care organizations across the country. But since elective surgeries in many states have been shelved, she’s been furloughed.

“I work full-time as a caretaker for my daughter,” the nurse explains. “She is medically fragile and has all kinds of health problems. So she requires a nurse.”

This nurse’s daughter is impacted by several conditions, including small bowel syndrome and Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia.

Her daughter's condition means that something like travel nursing - which allows registered nurses to fill staffing needs at hospitals in coronavirus hotspots - is off the table. Areas like New York City and Seattle have both seen an increased demand for travel nurses, but the most common contracts last for 13 weeks.

“Once I’ve stopped working the contract, then I would have to stay there for another two weeks and make sure I’m not sick, then I could come home,” the nurse explains. “Then I would have to hire someone to take care of my daughter 24/7.”

She’s hoping her hours pick back up as Ohio and other states start letting hospitals get back to non-essential medical care.

Friday marks the first step in Ohio’s plan to gradually reopen society and the economy. Now, health care providers are allowed to offer procedures that don't require overnight stays.

It’s been a rough two months for hospitals and nurses as Ohio prepared for a surge in coronavirus cases. While some nurses have been working overtime, many others were furloughed and are struggling to make ends meet.

Withdrawing From Retirement To Pay Rent

Another nurse, who asked not to be named for fear of losing her job, was furloughed from a hospital outside Dayton. She was training to become a float nurse, and was furloughed mid-April for a minimum of four weeks.

“I took it very personally. I have been nothing but a loyal employee,” the nurse says. “I never say no to them. I’m the person at the hospital that if they need, I’m there.”

She’s been looking into travel nursing as well, but hasn’t found the right fit. As a single mother, she says she needs to consider her child’s safety first.

“I am working with one agency, and if they can get me in the state I want to be in, then it just might be my chance to move,” the nurse says.

Inside the Greater Columbus Convention Center, hundreds of makeshift hospital rooms have been set up for coronavirus patients.
Credit Greater Columbus Convention Center
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Inside the Greater Columbus Convention Center, hundreds of makeshift hospital rooms have been set up for coronavirus patients.

Until then, her financial plans are being shaped day by day.

“I actually withdrew from my retirement to be able to cover my bills for the month of May,” the nurse says. “So hopefully I’ll have unemployment coming in soon so I can plan on paying for June.”

A third nurse with the Kettering Health Network, who asked not to be named for fear of losing her job, says she’s usually ahead of schedule paying her bills. But being furloughed means she’ll exhaust her savings by the end of May.

“You go into nursing, and nursing is what you think is a guaranteed job,” the nurse says. “They say nurses can go anywhere and get a job. That’s a career trade where you’re never gonna be without work.”

A nurse who declined to conduct a recorded interview left a dormant Central Ohio hospital to work in an emergency room in the COVID-19 hot spot of New Orleans.

“I will not see my children for over a month," she wrote in an email, "but my bills will be paid.”

"A Bad Taste In Your Mouth"

Nurses across Ohio have seen life upended by the COVID-19 crisis. In Central Ohio, Mount Carmel Health System, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Adena Health System have all furloughed workers.

Just Ohio State University hospitals and OhioHealth have avoided furloughs.

Health care recruiter Lynda Anello is an administrator of The Ohio Nurses Network, a private Facebook group with more than 12,000 members. Anello thinks furloughing nurses was short-term thinking that could start hurting Ohio hospitals as they return to normal.

“Let’s say they lose you," she says. "Well, down the road, they need you, but it kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth."

As of Friday, May 1, Ohio hospitals are again allowed to offer elective surgeries and other procedures that don’t require an overnight stay. All the employers of nurses interviewed for this story said they are working to give their staff hours again, but that they did not have a plan yet as to when.

Do you have questions about Ohio's coronavirus response? Ask below as part of our Curious Cbus series.

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