Disasters, including global pandemics such as COVID-19, disrupt standard care and present ethical challenges. Planning helps us prepare for disasters, but it can’t eliminate the ethical dilemmas and moral distress that clinicians face. Staffing, supply shortages and patient surges require nurses and other healthcare providers to make decisions that may not align with standard care but are necessary under the circumstances. Familiarity with the ethical foundations for shifting standards of care assist nurses in navigating moral distress and achieve some degree of resilience during challenging times.
What is moral distress? A simple definition is the feeling that occurs when we’re prevented from doing what we believe it right. When we experience moral distress, we feel compromised in our ability to practice as moral agents according to professional values and standards Anyone working in healthcare during the current COVID-19 pandemic may experience moral distress.
These are uncertain times. Sadly, no perfect options exist during a pandemic, but moral distress can be mitigated when we listen to all perspectives, identify sources of conflict, and, when presented with limited choices, seek to identify options that minimize moral harm. Nurses must continue to speak up and reach out. We can bring calm to our residents, our community, and our profession during this challenging time. We’re in this together!
Stay the course, stay strong, stay well, mask up and stay tuned!