IOWA CITY — Hospital workers on the front line of the nation’s coronavirus battle are risking their own health to save the lives of a seemingly endless stream of COVID-19 patients.
And the doctors, nurses, therapists, food service providers, interpreters and janitorial staff face mental health threats, too, like stress and burnout.
In hopes of assessing those threats, cataloging worker experiences and answering “crucial questions about the impact of novel coronavirus on health care workers’ lives,” a national research collaborative has launched a HERO Registry, and the University of Iowa Health Care is participating.
The HERO Registry — short for Health Care Worker Exposure Response & Outcomes — had more than 10,000 participants from across the country as of Tuesday.
Workers can join for free and participate by answering a list of basic and in-depth questions about what they do, where they’re located, how they ended up fighting COVID-19 and their personal experiences.
“We need evidence to keep health care workers and their families safe and healthy, which ultimately will help protect us all,” according to the registry, which is coordinated by the Duke Clinical Research Institute. “Their input will help us study and address the problems our health care heroes face in real time — and over time.”
Participants will have the chance to offer suggestions about what health care workers need, and they also will be invited to participate in future studies — creating a ready-made community to “facilitate rapid-cycle research” in real time.
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“We would like as many heath care workers as possible from UI Health Care, as well as across the state, to register because the HERO registry could provide valuable information about the epidemiology of COVID-19 in Iowa,” Dr. Loreen Herwaldt, UI professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases, said in a statement.
“By participating, we may also have the option for proposing additional studies of our own.”
Registry enrollees also can participate in the first national study on whether the drug hydroxychloroquine can prevent COVID-19 infection in health care workers.
The trial aims to enroll 15,000 HERO Registry participants to take either a placebo or the study drug for 30 days. The drug, which has the brand name Plaquenil, has been suggested as a potential COVID-19 treatment.
“The possible benefits of taking HCQ for health care workers who may be at risk for COVID-19 infection are not fully understood,” according to the registry. “We need evidence, and who better to help generate that evidence than health care workers?”
UI Health Care workers, in addition to participating in the registry, have shared personal experiences via company communications,
In a report Tuesday, UI nurse manager Nathalee Grue talked about the stresses of treating COVID-19 patients amid a vast array of unknowns.
“Working in the (Surgical and Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit) is already a stressful situation due to the type of patients we care for,” Grue said. “But when we started to get COVID-19 patients, everyone felt the stress.”
As plans are rolled out and changed often, Grue said, the leadership team meets with workers — providing some comfort with transparency.
“They tried to keep our staff nurses, assistants and clerks up to date on the plan,” she said. “There was a lot of transparency, which was reassuring.”
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Collecting that type of feedback from tens of thousands could help mitigate pressure on health care workers and alleviate some of their stresses, UI professor Herwaldt said.
“This registry is important because it is contributing to our knowledge of what it’s like to care for patients at this time,” she said. “By gathering questions and suggestions from health care workers about issues and problems they are encountering, the HERO Registry also gives heath care workers a voice in what needs to be studied in future research.”
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