One of the most memorable photos from the COVID-19 pandemic is an image of two healthcare workers in full PPE embracing, face shield to face shield. It’s an even prouder moment for the nursing community as the two are a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) couple from Tampa General Hospital.
These two CRNAs, Mindy Brock and Ben Cayer, are on the hospital’s airway team. When a COVID patient is in respiratory distress and requires intubation, they are there to sedate and intubate the patient. This is a high-stress situation where time is of the essence, as a COVID-19 patient’s oxygen saturation is known to drop rapidly.
Mindy and Ben are just one example of the roles that CRNAs have played in helping fight COVID-19 across the country. Keep reading to find out more about how CRNAs are contributing to this health crisis.
How CRNA Qualifications Help
CRNAs are advanced practice nurses who are trained in skills such as intubation, arterial line insertion, central line insertion, and pain management techniques, such as regional blocks. Prior to earning their degree and certification, CRNAs are required to have intensive care unit (ICU) experience so they are well-versed in managing critically ill patients.
This education and training takes a CRNA to the head of the bed in an operating room, surgery center, or doctor’s office, but the COVID-19 pandemic has CRNAs finding new opportunities to pitch in.
Continuing the Fight in Medically Underserved Areas
CRNAs have full practice authority in 29 states. This means they can practice without a physician’s supervision. As a result, CRNAs often provide care and airway expertise in traditionally underserved areas. An example would be in a community access hospital where hiring a CRNA can be a cost-effective practice.
According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, on March 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a temporary suspension of supervision requirements for CRNAs. This suspension meant hospitals and health systems could utilize CRNAs to the fullest extent of their practice. In a press release about the suspension, Kate Jansky, the AANA President, said this decision allows CRNAs to manage and staff intensive care units as well as staff operating rooms without a physician’s supervision.
Traveling to the Front Lines
Lots of facilities canceled their elective surgeries to slow the spread and preserve their PPE, and many furloughed CRNAs took the opportunity to travel to some of the hardest-hit areas to provide their services. One example of this was when 30 CRNAs from the North American Partners in Anesthesia (NAPA) group traveled to New Jersey to join in the fight against COVID-19.
CRNAs traveling to states that were hit hard would work on intubation teams as well as resuscitation teams. When a COVID-19 patient coded in the hospital, the CRNAs would provide assistance in airway management, medication administration, and other potentially life-saving tasks.
Many CRNAs left behind families and risked their personal health to serve those most in need. Some have even come out of retirement to volunteer.
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Even with the right PPE, the work is dangerous. CRNAs are working with the airway, which means they are especially at risk for getting contaminated droplets on their clothing or breathing them in. An estimated 20 percent of the anesthesiology department at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City had contracted the virus as of April 2020, according to the Associated Press. Even with the increased risk many have voluntarily given their time and knowledge.
Returning to the Bedside
Because CRNAs have worked in different ICU settings before going to graduate school, some have opted to return to the bedside during the pandemic. For example, many have stepped into roles helping manage ventilators and airways in ICUs as well as taking patient assignments.
With elective surgeries on hold in many parts of the country, working in the ICUs or in emergency triage settings allows CRNAs to utilize their hard-earned skills.
While 2020 has looked very different for the healthcare community than anyone had anticipated, there are countless stories of nurses, including CRNAs, who have answered the personal call to help. The pandemic has also shined a light on CRNAs’ services and engaged politicians and communities to lobby for expanded practice rights.
Where there is a health need, nurses — including CRNAs — will answer the call.