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‘Covid-19 heroes? Nurses worry about pay cuts’ 
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2020.06.02 15:33
  • Updated 2020.06.02 17:20
  • comments 0

“Why should doctors and nurses fighting Covid-19 worry about money, too?”

Shin Kyung-rim, president of the Korean Nurses Association (KNA), threw this question while talking about the reality facing nurses at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19.

Nurses have to wear protective clothing, a goggle, and a mask to take care of Covid-19 patients. However, growing losses at hospitals amid the pandemic made healthcare workers concerned about uncertain wages, she said.

A recent survey by the KNA revealed such a grim reality. About 56 percent of nurses tending to Covid-19 patients had to work for more than two days, even when they did not feel well. Despite excessive work, around 94 percent of nurses who belonged to hospitals said their employers did not give them overtime pay. (Related news: 77% of Korean nurses ‘afraid of Covid-19 infection’)

Shin Kyung-rim, president of the Korean Nurses Association (KNA), shares the experiences of nurses tending to Covid-19 patients on a YouTube show, “Corona Fighters Live,” on Friday by K-Healthlog, operated by The Korean Doctors’ Weekly.

Another poll earlier showed that 72.8 percent of nurses said they faced unfair treatment such as unpaid leave or forced vacation by their employers amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Shin appeared on a YouTube show, “Corona Fighters Live,” on Friday by K-Healthlog, operated by The Korean Doctors’ Weekly, and emphasized that nurses were doing the best they could for Covid-19 patients, even in the poor working environment.

“When I saw nurses at the clinical scene, I often felt this was not right. They put all kinds of bandages on their face and haven't eaten water for two hours before putting on protective clothing because they did not want to go to the bathroom in the middle of the work,” Shin said.

Some stayed at patient wards for three or four hours consecutively because they did not have enough nursing gowns.

She said she visited Daegu, once the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in Korea, two weeks ago.

“I asked nurses there how they managed the hot weather in protective clothing, and they said they were carrying ice packs around,” Shin said. They tried to get cooling vests with ice packs but found that it would take more than two months to get imported ones, she added.

Many nurses did not go home for fear of transmitting the virus to their families and stayed overnight at the hospital’s funeral rooms, according to Shin. Tending to Covid-19 patients who had to be quarantined for treatment was challenging not only physically but psychologically. Some patients verbally abused them, Shin noted.

“That is why KNA opened a counseling call center. I hope nurses can get help for their emotional issues,” she said. “I think we will have to make guidelines to help emotionally distressed nurses.”

Shin also said she was heartbroken to see nurses worry about a possible wage cut, as the hospital business outlook turned worse.

One nursing chief at a hospital told Shin she was concerned that nurses at the hospital could not receive wages. “Some people might say why a nursing chief worries about what a hospital chief has to worry, but this is the reality,” she said, hoping that the government could swiftly give support for hospitals to operate appropriately.

Although the summer was coming up, nurses did not have access to cooling vests and were short of the workforce for more shifts, Shin said. “The government has done nothing to help hospitals provide healthcare services well. Nurses are complaining that they almost ran out of energy to take care of patients,” she said.

As Covid-19 cast the light on the shortage of nursing workforce, nurses need improvement in working conditions first, Shin emphasized. Even though the nation has a sufficient number of nurses, poor working conditions make it difficult to stay at the nursing job, she said.

“The nation turns out more than 20,000 nurses every year. We should make a system so that nurses at the field do not leave,” Shin said. Not many medical institutions comply with the standard nursing employment cited in the Medical Services Act, she pointed out. “Those that violate the law do not get punished. Who would want to keep the law when no one gets punished?” she asked.

Shin cited a grueling intensity of nurses’ work as another problem.

“There are too many patients that a single nurse has to tend to, in general. The government should help hospitals run stably so that the hospitals can improve the working environment for nurses. These things should go together,” she added.


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