Health care workers frustrated, exhausted amid latest COVID surge
"We are burnt out, we are tired and we are disheartened."
With the presence of omicron rapidly increasing across the country, federal health officials are warning the surge in coronavirus cases expected in the weeks to come could significantly increase hospital demand.
As more than 7,800 Americans are admitted into hospitals with the virus each day, from Michigan to New Hampshire, health care workers are once again finding themselves overwhelmed with the number of patients in need of care -- not only for COVID-19, but for other illnesses and winter-related ailments.
"We are burnt out, we are tired and we are disheartened. So much of what we see on a daily basis is preventable," Sarah Rauner, chief nurse practitioner at Beaumont Health in Troy, Michigan, told ABC News. "We are still living this every day."
In Wisconsin, just 4% of intensive care unit beds are currently available.
Sue Wolfe, a nurse at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, told ABC News that in her 38-year tenure as a nurse at the hospital, she has never seen anything like this surge.
"This place is so busy, so packed. ... We have patients coming in all the time, waiting in the waiting room, waiting in the hallways, waiting on carts, waiting to go upstairs," Wolfe said. "We also have a waiting room that's packed full of people that are coming in more and more each day with COVID."
Across the country, nearly 70,000 patients are currently hospitalized with the virus.
"We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."
Most of the patients infected with COVID at UW Health are unvaccinated, leaving Wolfe frustrated and exhausted.
"I find it frustrating. I get angry," Wolfe said. "I wonder why they did this, why they're doing this to me. Why are they doing this to all the people that need to be away from sick people in the waiting room? I'm frustrated because I can't get them out of the frickin' waiting room."
Wolfe added that with so many nurses burnt out and overworked, many are leaving the profession altogether, forcing those remaining to work extended shifts.
"This is my second 16-hour shift this week. I'm finally leaving. Came in here at 2 o'clock in the morning and it's now 7 at night. I got my 20-minute break. It gets hard. I am 61 years old and I'm doing this," Wolfe said.
Dr. Jamie Hess, an emergency physician at University of Wisconsin, reported that her team is seeing higher volumes of patients in the emergency department than ever before.
"We're really reaching a crisis point where we have more patients to take care of than we have beds in the hospital or staff to care for them. And this is getting really scary. This is happening not only here across the state, across the nation, it's becoming a huge issue," Hess said.
A similar situation is taking place across the country in New Hampshire, where many hospitals are stretched thin amid the state's worst surge on record.
Dr. Laura McPhee, a critical care physician at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, reported her team is now seeing more coronavirus patients than at any other time in the pandemic.
"We have an entire ICU upstairs in our hospital also, it is not normally an ICU. We're caring for three to four times as many patients than we ever have. And we don't have enough staff to do so. We're tired," McPhee told ABC News.
Jenn Groulx, a nurse at Elliot Hospital, said nurses are completely overwhelmed, largely due to unprecedented staffing shortages.
"There are nurses leaving every night crying -- just upset that they can't do everything that they want to do for these patients and what we're used to doing for them," Groulx said.
To cope with the stress, Dr. Jayna Gardner-Gray, a critical care and emergency medicine physician with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said she often says a prayer before going into work, as the day can quickly become overwhelming.
Many of these patients are quite ill, and according to Gardner-Gray, her team has "definitely" seen an increase in the number of ventilators in use, largely by the unvaccinated.
Wolfe described to ABC News her anguish at seeing patients struggling to breathe and being admitted into the ICU.
"I know that sometimes when I say goodbye to these people, I'm never going to see them again because they're going to die. They're never going to make it out of this place. It's hard," Wolfe said.
Ahead of the holidays, the front-line workers urged all eligible Americans to get vaccinated, the most-effective tool against COVID-19 variants, and to follow mitigation measures, such as wearing a mask when indoors in public spaces, and avoiding crowds.
"Do what you can, at the very least, to try to help others around you, if you're not doing it. For me, for the nurses. Do it for the people that you care about, that perhaps are susceptible to getting really sick because of the virus that you're carrying. Please, please get vaccinated," pleaded Wolfe.
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