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Q&A: Two Iowa nurses share challenges, experiences of working during COVID-19 pandemic


Iowa nurses Abby Williams-Clearl (left) and Lia Basemann (right) discussed their experiences working at their respective hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. — photos courtesy of Abby Williams-Clearly and Lia Basemann

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa hospitals have been overwhelmed, especially in recent months as hospitalizations due to the virus continued to reach record-breaking numbers.

The dire situation facing Iowa’s hospitals and healthcare workers has been featured prominently in recent stories in The Atlantic and ProPublica.

“In a lot of ways, Iowa is serving as the control group of what not to do,” University of Iowa infectious-disease doctor Eli Perencevich told The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey.

As of 10 a.m. on Thursday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting 251,028 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as 3,120 deaths. A total of 863 individuals are hospitalized.

Little Village interviewed two nurses about their experiences, how they have been supported by their hospital and the most challenging parts of the pandemic they have had to face.

Lia Basemann is a registered nurse at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. Abby Williams-Clearly has been a medical-surgical nurse for more than six years at UnityPoint Health-Grinnell Regional Medical Center.

Their responses have been edited for clarity.

What has been the most challenging and frustrating part of this pandemic?

Lia Basemann: No matter what you do sometimes this illness is vicious. No matter what we do and the efforts we put in are just never enough. We are so used to doing everything we can to fix people. Right now no matter what we are doing, sometimes it’s not enough. Then we have to turn to doing our best of keeping them comfortable, which as nurses, it’s not something that is always easy. We always want to fix them, so when you can’t, it’s just heartbreaking.

Abby Williams-Clearly: The most challenging thing is as you are watching your patients struggle and sometimes fail, just having to care for them when their families are at a distance — when they are on Facetime or at the window or in the parking lot praying for them. It’s just really hard to be at these end of life situations where there’s such a divide between the patient and their family. As a nurse who has been at a lot of end of life situations in my career, this is different, and it’s really painful. It’s a very hard thing to witness.

How have you and your coworkers supported one another?

LB: We do a lot of game days. We will socially distance and play games at someone’s house. Monopoly is a huge game that me and my coworkers are just like, ‘let’s get distracted and go play a game and just try and forget what’s happening at the hospital.’

AWC: We support each other in the ways that we always do. It’s important for us to hold space for one another to be vulnerable because we are going through this together. I think we should give each other grace where we can. It’s been really good to have each other to talk to. The community has been really good with little treats and words of encouragement to keep going.

What has your hospital done to support you?

LB: At my hospital, they are offering debriefings multiple times a week. We have therapists that we can [talk to] for free if we need to. I think it’s hard especially for nurses to ask for help, but we are educating them that they need to go talk to somebody before this takes a toll on them. We have so many new nurses that are coming into the hospital. This is their first year, and this is what they are dealing with. I am scared that this will deter some pretty amazing nurses away because it’s been such a tough year.

AWC: They are taking it very seriously with plans on what to do if we fill up. Right now, we have an incentive program if you are picking up extra shifts. If there’s a hole in the schedule, you get a COVID incentive pay, which is a nice benefit to have. We are supported emotionally. There’s a lot of different ways that they show they are taking this seriously and preparing as much as they can.

Health experts are predicting that we are about to enter the darkest period in this pandemic. Do you (hospital, healthcare staff) feel prepared?

LB: I feel at my hospital we are prepared for whatever is going to come our way. We are nervous that it’s about to get really bad with the holidays coming up and people not wanting to socially distance themselves because they want to be with their families. I hope people take this seriously and hunker down so we don’t see so many people coming in and getting the virus and passing away.

AWC: I think the world of our team. I work with a hardworking professional team — our nurses, respiratory specialists, our CNAs and Dr. Graham is our fearless COVID leader. I know there are meetings on what to do and preserve supplies, but I don’t think we can be fully prepared. We can’t manufacture more nurses and doctors. We can’t make a cure. We can’t make people care. I don’t think we can be ready, [but] we are as ready as we can be.

Overall, what’s been the hardest thing you have had to do during this pandemic?

LB: I had a patient who needed to go on a ventilator. This was at the very beginning before we really started changing our care plans for these patients. We wheeled him over. He was awake on the phone with his wife, knowing he was going to be intubated, not knowing if he was going to wake up again. That was the hardest day of my entire nursing career.


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