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What COVID Nurses Want You To Know Right Now

Sarah Flanagan, a 24-year-old acute care nurse, can’t believe she’s back here, working long hours at a Florida hospital overrun with coronavirus patients.

Countless people in need of care are held in the halls of the emergency room for days. His hospital, which Flanagan has asked not to be named due to job security concerns, is increasingly converting units to COVID-19 units. And virtually all of those patients aren’t vaccinated, Flanagan said.

After 18 months of this, the medical workers have had enough.

“We started losing staff in waves and in droves,” she told HuffPost. “There was a unit that, literally, the whole night shift decided, ‘We’re done. “”

The hospital saw its highest peak in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and sicker patients than ever before, with not enough nurses to help them, Flanagan said.

Many nurses feel exhausted, defeated and disappointed by patients who have not been vaccinated and that there are not enough staff for everyone.

“You feel like what you are doing is not enough. It’s so frustrating, ”said Flanagan, adding that she’s struggling to find anything rewarding in nursing right now. “You see so many people who are not doing well. “

Almost two years later, nurses reach their breaking point

Of course, Flanagan is far from the only nurse feeling tired and hopeless as coronavirus deaths continue to rise. And while some evidence shows new cases and hospitalizations are stabilizing nationwide, staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic mean nurses in much of the country are unlikely to take a break anytime soon. In Florida, where Flanagan works, 70 percent of hospitals faced staff shortages over the summer.

“The pandemic is accelerating a broad trend that has been building for some time,” said Joanne Spetz, director of UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and co-author of a study on nursing shortages related to COVID, in a press release. press release earlier this month.

Spetz’s study found that California will face a significant nursing shortage – of nearly 41,000 nurses – until at least 2026, as older nurses retire, citing burnout and the desire to protect family members from the coronavirus. National estimates suggest that the United States could face nursing shortages until 2030.

In many ways, it’s a double whammy: Nurses are stressed because they are overworked and there aren’t enough of them. They are also emotionally exhausted because so many of the difficult cases they see can be prevented with vaccination. More than 98% of hospital admissions for COVID-19 between June and August were in unvaccinated people, according to estimates from the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker.

“I am frustrated taking care of unvaccinated COVID patients. I think they take beds for other patients, ”said Patricia, a 28-year-old traveling nurse who worked in New Jersey, South Carolina and Tennessee during the pandemic.

“I have heard too many stories of patients dying because intensive care beds are full,” added Patricia, who asked to use only her first name for confidentiality reasons. “Even with my frustration, I am able to put my personal feelings aside and take care of my patients the best I can.”

It’s up to all of us – and the system – to help

Things have deteriorated enough over the past two months that Flanagan has considered stepping down. She finds it devastating that 18 months later, things are worse than ever.

The struggle is widespread: a survey found that 81% of nurses 34 and under say they feel exhausted and 71% feel overwhelmed. More qualitative studies have also revealed feelings of inadequacy and helplessness among nurses during the pandemic.

“Every time I go to the hospital and feel like there are fewer resources and fewer staff, the more helpless I feel and the more I feel like what I’m doing is wrong. ‘doesn’t matter,’ Flanagan said. “Over the past two months, I have felt after particularly difficult shifts, like I don’t know how long I can stay at the bedside. “

What is most heartbreaking, she added, is that when hospitals like hers are overrun with COVID-19 patients, she is unable to give anyone the time and care. that it deserves. Flanagan embarked on advocacy work seeking federal intervention to address nurse burnout and a shared his experience on social media, which was somewhat helpful. She has started to resume therapy and is taking medication to help her manage her mental health.

Many of the changes Flanagan and other nurses want to see have to happen in their hospitals and in increasing the country’s nursing workforce, which is not easy to do.

“We can’t graduate nurses fast enough, but even when they graduate they are often not ready to provide the level of care they need most right now,” said Katie Boston- Leary, nursing educator, at the New York Times last time. month.

But just because system-level changes are needed to ease the burden on nurses doesn’t mean everyone is off the hook. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu dramatically reduces the risk of hospitalization, relieving overwhelmed hospitals and intensive care units. Earlier in the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on ways in which individuals could help healthcare workers, for example by cooking them meals, helping with childcare, or simply reaching out to help. support. Today, many nurses feel like they have been forgotten even though they are doing more than ever.

“I want people to understand that we nurses are exhausted,” Patricia said. “This pandemic has wreaked havoc on us in ways we could not imagine. We are extremely overworked and underpaid. Nurses are fed up with staff shortages and quit. We see death now more than ever. I encourage everyone to watch their nursing friends and family members.