INDIANAPOLIS – Of all the Covid patients Ronda Stevenson treats over Christmas, there is one she can’t help but think about. He was hospitalized for 10 months, and during that time his 7-year-old daughter was never allowed to visit him, barred from entering the hospital by age restrictions that keep families separate. Situations like this make even veteran healthcare workers cry.
Ms Stevenson, an intensive care unit nurse at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis for seven years, cries as she speaks of her patients and their families, clearly highlighting the pandemic’s heavy toll on already depleted hospital staff.
“We are understaffed,” Ms. Stevenson said. She added: “It’s getting more and more difficult.”
Instead of taking vacations this weekend, overworked hospital workers across the country are working 16-hour shifts. Some have been at work every day for weeks. Party meals have been replaced by protein bars and sports drinks.
This Christmas weekend, as the United States faces a new wave of disease fueled by a proportion of the population that remains unvaccinated, frontline workers are once again sacrificing time at home with their families to caring for Covid patients. In Indiana, which has one of the highest hospitalization rates and the lowest vaccination rates in the country, the situation is particularly acute.
“A lot of people including myself had scheduled time off, but they are now being asked to come and take shifts to cover each other and meet the increasing demands for patient care,” said Dr Graham. Carlos, Executive Medical Director. in Eskenazi, which is at full capacity and has a backlog of emergency room patients.
He fears it will only get worse. “If the numbers stay as they are, a tidal wave of infections is going to hit hospital systems, putting us in dire straits,” he said.
Almost two years after the start of the pandemic, hospital staff have already faced the emotional toll of mass death. They endured the frustration of pleading with the public to take precautions, only to watch epidemics unfold as people ignored their calls. They suffered the moral distress of not being able to provide patients with the ideal level of care.
But this season there is a new tension: many workers have left due to burnout and anxiety. And with the Omicron variant dramatically increasing the number of cases, caregivers who stay behind also contract infections.
“It’s the worst I have ever seen,” said Maureen May, a nurse with 37 years of experience who is president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. She canceled her own vacation plans to take a shift on Christmas Day so a coworker could be away.
Amid urgent concerns over hospital staff shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week shortened isolation periods for infected health workers, allowing them to return to work in seven days, instead of 10. President Biden also said 1,000 military medics, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel would be deployed to bolster the hospital workforce in the coming weeks.
At the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, the National Guard assisted in tasks such as transporting patients and cleaning up. Now a team of 20 from the Navy is arriving to help supplement the medical staff, who are partly depleted because around 350 workers across the hospital system have been released with Covid or because they have been exposed to the virus.