Pandemic exhaustion causing some nurses to leave emergency departments as 4th COVID surge approaches

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- After more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals across the country are noticing a concerning trend -- their medical staff is burned out.

"You cannot stay without vacation one year. We've been without vacation since the start of the pandemic," said Birgul Polat a Bay Area registered nurse.

"You haven't had a vacation in over a year?" we asked.

"No maybe two days. No more than three days," Polat said.

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Polat says multiple hours of overtime a week, no sleep and no end in sight as we approach a fourth surge, is taking a toll.

"I don't know how I'm going to be sick or die or get a heart attack... working a lot of time and right now I only have four hours of sleep and it's been three days," said Polat.

At Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Colwell Chief of Emergency Medicine, is reporting the biggest nurse staffing shortage of his career.

"I'm even more worried about the situations where nobody would come in. As you know, its law we can only open up beds when we have nurses to staff them, and in the emergency department we need a nurse per three beds. So when nurses can't come to work we have to shut down beds," said Dr. Colwell.

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It's a trend his colleagues in Denver and Detroit are also challenged with.

Luz Pena: "Dr. McVaney what's happening in Denver?"

Dr. Kevin McVaney: "We have empty beds, but we can't get enough staff to safely take care of patients and that causes us to have emergency departments diverge or hospital divert," said McVaney Medical director for Denver's Emergency Response System.

In Detroit, Dr. Robert Dunne says they are experiencing long waits for hospital beds, and some of their nurses left the emergency department.

"There are a lot of opportunities for nurses in outpatient settings, in home and honestly in public health. I have a lot of nurses that are out working some of our vaccine clinics and not working at the hospital anymore," said Dr. Dunne.

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Over the past four to six weeks Dr. Colwell is reporting a 50 to 60 percent increase in ambulance diversion, meaning patients who are not critical are being re-directed to hospitals nearby.

The main concern in multiple emergency rooms across the county, is not having enough nurse staff to respond to a fourth coronavirus surge.

Luz Pena: "Do you think your medical staff is reaching that limit?"

Dr. Colwell: "I think we are closer to that limit than we have ever been before in the era of vaccines where this is preventable. What we are seeing now is preventable" and added, "We need to give the medical community a chance to take a deep breath."


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