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Nursing in South Carolina One Year Later – Part 2: 'I Don't Need a Cookie, I Need Systemic Change'

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Nurses were buoyed by their coworkers during the worst of the pandemic. But they have bills too.

In Part 2 of South Carolina Public Radio's four-part look at how COVID-19 affected nurses and their profession, two ICU nurses talk about the systemic 'wounds' the pandemic exposed and the need for more than accolades on the job.

The pandemic made a lot of people immediately aware how valuable nurses are. And the outpouring of support from the public did help to lift the spirits of intensive care nurses like Peyton Korhorn and Amanda Henneage.

So too did the banners their hospital administrators hung to tell the world that 'heroes work here.'

They appreciated that. They appreciated how members of their teams were there for each other when it got bad. And it frequently got bad.

But Korhorn and Henneage say the "smiles and hugs" only go so far. What the pandemic exposed for these nurses was how unprepared hospitals in South Carolina (and, really, everywhere) were when it came to such a sweeping public health crisis.

They say the pandemic exposed a lot of "ugly wounds" that hospitals have been glossing over for a long time — the volume and quality of vital supplies, including medicines; the gloves and other items of PPE that nurses use to protect themselves; the way hospital administrators communicate with them; and salaries that often don't match the nature and intensity of the work they do.

Administrators like Michelle Logan-Owens, the COO of McLeod Health, agree that systemic change is needed and that the pandemic did expose how underprepared hospitals were to meet it.

But she says that the crisis forced a lot of "innovative thinking" about how to deal with the very issues nurses like Korhorn and Henneage raise. And she's optimistic that with the worst of the pandemic subsided, new ways of addressing those concerns will be brought to the fore.

This story is part of a series exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursing and health care in South Carolina. In Part 3, a look at how educators and trade professionals see the profession shaping up.