Local travel nurses fill critical need nationwide amid 'third wave' of coronavirus infections

Elena Mway is a travel nurse with Premier Health Professionals who has been helping hospitals across the country treat patients with COVID-19.

Elena Mway, 38, became a registered nurse seven years ago understanding she would have to wear many hats throughout her career, including that of a patient advocate, educator, care manager and more.

So when hospitals across the country were faced with a shortage of nurses to treat COVID-19 patients, Mway and her colleagues were among the first to sign on to travel across the country to help.

Mway, who has lived in Lilburn for 12 years, works with Premier Healthcare Professionals, a healthcare staffing firm based in Cumming that has deployed more than 450 nurses to the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

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The “frontliners” leave home for weeks or months at a time and are stationed at hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities that desperately need them across Georgia and other hot spots with high rates of infection, such as New York.

Premier’s rapid response teams remain on standby, ready for deployment to any city facing a COVID-19 crisis — situations exacerbated by a deficit of nurses that’s long troubled the global healthcare industry.

“I have always wanted to serve and help people, hence my eight years of military service, and now I am serving as a nurse,” Mway said. “I wanted a career that is giving, challenging and where I can make a difference in people’s lives. Nursing is one of the most respected and trusted professions, and we are the backbone of the healthcare industry.”

In the Army reserves, Mway worked as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Operations Specialist, but is now a bedside nurse, often working more than 12-hour shifts. During the pandemic, she has even used her own cellphone to make FaceTime calls to families so they know their loved ones are well taken care of.

“As a bedside nurse I do everything from giving medications, charting, monitoring vital signs, making sure patients are prepped for scheduled procedures, communicating with doctors, educating patients and their family members, providing emotional support, etc.,” she said. “Nursing is challenging. It will make you or break you!”

“Having to juggle between 10 different things that need to be done now, while four different patients are calling at the same time with their needs and wants, having to work in a short-staffed nursing unit, losing a patient and trying to hold back tears while comforting their loved ones, and so many things I can’t put to words.”

But Mway said she loves every minute of being a travel nurse. She was first deployed to Northside Hospital Atlanta, where she stayed for three months. She recently returned home from another assignment in Texas, where she spent two months treating COVID-19 patients.

“Everyday is a new challenge, but I always tell myself ‘no matter how bad my day is, it does not even compare to how hard it is to be a patient in the hospital,’” Mway said. “We are here to make their hospital stay better and help them and their family go through the disease process as comfortable and smooth as possible.”

According to Yahoo! Finance, major parts of the country are now grappling with surges in new COVID-19 counts ahead of the flu season.

It reported that the U.S. saw its highest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations last week since Sept. 2, while the number of new infections on Oct.15 topped 60,000, for the first time since early August.

Medical professionals are calling the surge in infections a “third wave,” which may lead to an increase or continued need for travel nurses.

Mway began working with Premier three years ago after a co-worker recommended the agency to her. Like Mway, Royce Evans, an Atlanta-based registered nurse and grandmother of two, also heard about Premier through word-of-mouth.

Earlier this year, Evans watched as an entire floor of her hospital was temporarily closed when 13 fellow nurses tested positive for COVID-19. But she didn’t bat an eye.

She reported to work and cared for two patients with confirmed novel coronavirus infections and likely others. Another day at the office, basically.

“Working at the hospital, unlike the rest of the world, we’re exposed to situations like this all of the time,” Evans said. “To me personally, I did the same thing I do with a patient with any other highly infectious disease. I’m used to it.”

Mway said she would like to tell all her front-line co-workers to “hang in there.”

“We are all in this together,” she said. “We can do this. Know that you are not alone. Please take care of yourself first — your physical and mental health are the most important. The world is a better place because of you!”

Premier was ranked No. 2 in the “Top 10 Travel Nurse Staffing Companies in 2020” by online travel nurse resource Highway Hypodermics. In the past 18 months alone, the rapidly expanding business has acquired several other healthcare staffing companies and bolstered its reputation for top pay for all nurses.

“We take pride in compensating our providers with rates that are higher than industry standard and ensure that they are taken care of at every assignment,” CEO Chris Eales said. “Ninety percent of our nurses come from referrals, and most of our office staff have been with us for over a decade, serving the community with high-quality work and dedication.”

Mway said she would like to think she has made a positive impact in her patients’ and coworkers’ lives, especially in these challenging times during a pandemic.

“Now more than ever, our patients need us the most,” she said. “We are the only ones who can comfort and hold their hands… .”

For more information on Premier, visit https://travelphp.com/.

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