As National Nurses Week concludes, those in the profession in New Jersey face an ongoing battle against an ongoing pandemic and all of its effects, physical, mental, and professional.

Nursing was a stressful job before COVID-19 came along, but the coronavirus made that stress more consistent and ratcheted it up to unhealthy levels, according to Sue Salmond, director of the newly-formed New Jersey Nursing and Emotional Well-Being Institute and executive vice dean at Rutgers University School of Nursing.

Confusion and uncertainty ruled the early days of the crisis, Salmond said, as these front-line health care workers often went without adequate personal protective equipment and had to devise ways to safely interact with patients and their own loved ones alike.

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"Many of our nurses did not go home for a good period of time, and stayed in hotels," Salmond said. "Many went home and developed rituals as to how to get out of their work gear into showers, and protect their family."

With visitation rights greatly restricted at that time, nurses often used their own phones to connect patients with family members.

And even when hospitals bought tablets for that purpose, nurses still shouldered the responsibility of making sure patients did not die alone. Those deaths were happening faster than anyone could have anticipated.

"The number of patients dying was probably more than people had ever, maybe in a month more than people had seen in a career," Salmond said.

The pressure of having to rethink how to go about their jobs, with the traditional ways of doing things perhaps not feasible in a pandemic, has been exhausting for nurses, according to Salmond.

"Perhaps most dominant is fatigue injury among nurses," she said. "The wear and tear due to just everyday stressors, without sufficient rest and recovery, has been huge."

Salmond cited studies claiming that about 75% of nurses say they are more stressed than ever before, and 45% to 70% admit some level of exhaustion or burnout.

Those numbers have been exacerbated by a backlash that began after the initial wave of COVID, when the front-line heroes of the pandemic's first few months became targets for continuing to practice precautions in both their professional and personal lives.

The reason behind that seems to be that most people are tired of COVID at this point, Salmond said. But what they may not realize is that nurses are too.

"Nurses tell lots of stories of being in stores, and people isolating from them or not wanting them to be there," she said.

NJ-NEW is touting a package of programs and initiatives it is supporting to provide help and resources for nurses both in the immediate term and for the years ahead, and Salmond is discussing those in detail with New Jersey 101.5 for the second part of this story, coming Friday.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions: