Pick up extra shifts or stay at home? Tired hospital staff struggle to find their balance

California is well on its way to breaking the hospitalization record from the deadly COVID-19 surge last winter. More than 4,000 people are being hospitalized in Los Angeles, and while most are being treated for other issues, the influx is putting a strain on hospitals, which are already scarce. Some hospitals have canceled elective surgery, including the Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley.

The hospital is busy and forced to open units that normally do not accept inpatients, says Elizabeth Chow, executive director of intensive care services at Providence. Almost a quarter of employees suffer from symptoms of COVID and stay at home. It pushed her colleagues to take on extra shifts, which is very exhausting.

“There’s a lot of fear in there, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe we’re going to do this again,'” she told KCRW. “It’s daunting. People are tired at the end of the shift. You are really tired and there is a balance between recording when you can and knowing when you are just too tired and just need to stay home for a day. “

Despite new California rules allowing hospital staff to return to work after five days of isolation if they have no symptoms but remain positive for the virus, Chow says Providence has decided to allow the original 10-day isolation period. In the event of a critical shortage of staff, they could reconsider the decision. Should that day come, however, Chow adds that COVID-positive staff will be housed in units with COVID patients.

“We would never take her to an oncology department. So I think a lot of thought would go into her work. We’d never use it on immunocompromised people, but it’s intimidating, ”she explains. “We don’t want other caregivers to get sick and go out. We want to keep everyone as healthy as possible. “

Although elective procedures like knee replacement and gallbladder surgery have been canceled, Chow assures that the hospital is still able to care for those in immense need.

Compassion for unvaccinated patients

Chow says that while she would like patients to be vaccinated – resulting in fewer hospital stays and fewer risks to others – she feels compassion for those treated in Providence.

“We take care of them so intensely. Some of them stay in our hospital for a very long time, we get to know their families and we are with them wholeheartedly. They are still human and we still care. “

However, she notes that she would like more people to get their COVID vaccinations.

“By not getting vaccinated, they’ve increased the chances of getting sick in the hospital. You will have a negative impact on loved ones. And they have increased our workload, and our workload is just really more than we can take at this point in time. This is something that I don’t think people necessarily think about when they get sick: they affect not only themselves but others, including people in hospitals, who have to care for them. “

She adds, “We were all looking forward to just completing 2021 and reaching 2022, leaving COVID behind. And here we are in January 2022. And at that point we only have about 50% of the COVID patients we had last year, but it’s really unsettling to go through this again. “

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