With the pandemic now wearing on for more than two years, the toll on healthcare workers is nearing a breaking point. And yet they soldier on, holding tight to the mission that called them to this line of work in the first place, and hoping like the rest of the world that spring will bring the beginning of a real end to the COVID-19 disaster.
In the meantime, the current situation has brought ever more challenging circumstances, as well as seemingly tireless support among healthcare providers to get each other through this, even as the rest of the world seems to have already begun to turn the page.
“For several months now the number of patients in the hospital has been running anywhere from 120- to 150-percent of the normal maximum capacity,” Dr. Powers, Chief Medical Office at UMHH says. “And not only is it much busier than normal, but the patients are much sicker than normal. We have up-staffed to care for these additional patients, but there’s a shortage of healthcare workers so we haven’t been able to hire many additional staff, which means that although we’re staffed with more people each day, it’s just the same people working more shifts.”
Dr. Tai Temple, Chief of Hospitalist Medicine at UMHH, says the staffing shortages being experienced across the nation, around the state and at UMMH are taking a toll on every facet of healthcare, but especially in the hospital setting. Among physicians, the bulk of that increased need for care has fallen on hospitalists.
“Since the pandemic began, hospitalists are really the people who’ve been taking care of the bulk of all the COVID patients in addition to non-COVID illnesses and treatment,” she says. “Hospitalist physicians are trained to deliver the intensive level of care that COVID patients and all inpatients need. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of replacements for us. We don’t have enough people coming up in the ranks to replace us and yet the demand has been sustained and very high for the last 18 months.”
But both Drs. Powers and Temple say that recognition of how difficult this has made things on hospitalists and all healthcare professionals has lessened as the pandemic has weared on.
“There is the sense that no one outside of the hospital setting has any real idea how difficult the situation is inside the hospitals,” Dr. Powers says. “It’s a bit depressing to say the least if you’re in here working your butt off and the outside world doesn’t seem to be aware that the situation is still so dire. Everyone is so ready to just move on from thinking about COVID, but here, we can’t.”
As difficult as that disconnect is, somehow physicians at Harrington and in the wider community have found the spirit and energy to continue supporting each other, so that together they can continue to care for those who need their care the most.
As the head of the Hospitalist program, Dr. Temple says she is especially grateful for her team of hospitalist physicians as well as the supportive community of other physicians and providers who have stepped up to help. Dr. Powers notes that providers from other departments and practices both within Harrington Physician Services and the local community have been helping out as well.
Dr. Temple gives a special shout out to the employees who work the night shift, when comforts like the cafeteria are closed, sometimes a saving grace for those who need to keep their energy up for treating patients.
“At the very least, we want to give some public recognition to these people who are giving up their time and working on nights and weekends to help out the team through something as extraordinary and difficult as this pandemic,” Dr. Powers says.
Drs. Temple and Powers, along with the rest of the leadership team at Harrington Hospital recognize and extend heartfelt appreciation to the entire hospitalist team as well as the other physicians who have volunteered to help.
The hospitalist team includes: Dr. Issam Oneyssi, Dr. David Nesanelis, Dr. Mohsin Syed Alvi, Dr. Suresh Mamidala, Doreen Norberg APRN, Darlene Henriquez NP, Andrea Meyer PA, Sang Mi Jeon NP, Cindy Porter NP and Holly Gardner MPAS, PA-C.
Other providers who have given their time and expertise to caring for the hospital’s patients during this time include: Dr. John Howland, Dr. Yasir Saleem, Dr. Andre Sayko, Dr. Ashish Verma, Paula Shonak, NP and Heather Sienel, PA.
For Dr. Temple and her team, the help hasn’t just lightened their load. It has also lifted their spirits.
“It’s great moral support as a medical staff and has made us feel like we are in this together,” she says. “I think this has also helped health systems learn to work even more collaboratively to accommodate patients and help each other across the system. It’s always good when you can wear the shoes of someone else for a while, which I think is a valuable interaction for everyone involved.”
“For our frontline workers moving forward, I would say try to find something every day to make you laugh or bring you joy. I think we all deserve that self-care and finding that balance as part of your day. Your mental health and well-being directly affect how you do your job on a daily basis.”
“And for the community and our patients, I would just hope that you know that healthcare workers are in it for the long haul. Just recognize that every hospital is at its capacity and it’s going to take us being kind to each other to get through it.”
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