Resignations have been put on hold in close floors, sick staff, and hospitals in Alabama, as well as due to omicron
Meliah Scarborough Mendoza was a medical social worker who helped discharge COVID-19 patients from a hospital in Mobile for the first year in a half of the epidemic.
We were all kind of backed into a corner with impossible scenarios, she said. Theres just no good outcome, and you just kind of need to do the next-best right thing that you can, she said.
It was kind of like working in a pressure cooker because administration, our bosses, everybody is saying, get them out, get them out, she said of her role in discharging patients to give more space to other patients.
So theyre saying, Get them out, But where do you put them?
Mendoza is one of many healthcare workers who have left the frontlines of the pandemic due to burnout, compassion fatigue, and frustration about reduced vaccination rates and seeing too much death.
As omicron rises in Alabama, extending amongst vaccinated healthcare workers, state's hospitals, which are already limited, are now experiencing a critical shortage, especially of nurses.
According to Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist in Montgomery, about 40 percent of healthcare staff in his clinic are unable to work due to omicron.
We do not have the staff to work on a building here in Montgomery., he said.
A lot of our trained nurses are burnt out, have post traumatic syndrome, depressed, or are retiring, as you know it," he said.
According to Dr. Lindsey Harris, the president of the Alabama Nurses Association, nurses in Alabama are 84 percent less likely to leave the state for better opportunities and more time.
If we provide adequate healthcare, without a healthy Alabama, we have no economy, she said.
According to the Labor Statistics in the United States, a record number of Americans resigned in 2021.
According to the research, one in five healthcare workers in the United States has quit their jobs during the pandemic.
Efforts at the national level to allow employers to raise pay for healthcare workers have failed during the epidemic. Governor Kay Ivey received federal COVID relief dollars last fall to attract travel nurses.
Harris, a member of the state nurses association, said she would like Alabama to allocate federal relief funds to retain staff nurses and honor their loyalty. Alabama is expected to receive another $1.5 billion COVID relief funds in 2022.
Staff nurses have received zero, she said of the COVID relief funds. (Its) a privilege to retain and maintain those nurses who have been faithful.
In my view, nurses and respiratory therapists are woefully underpaid, and have always been, said Thrasher.
The nursing shortage has been exacerbated as the state develops its highest-ever pandemic cases, with an average of 10,000 cases per day and hospitalizations with COVID.
UAB had over 358 healthcare workers sick on Wednesday, out of almost 17,000.
Coupled with those who are out for testing, or because they have COVID positive family members to care for, that increase the burden on hospital operations, said UAB spokesperson Bob Shepard on Wednesday.
The Athens-Limestone Hospital, a small hospital in north Alabama, was down 58 employees Thursday, mostly vaccinated healthcare workers who still got COVID-19. Nine additional were awaiting tests. Hospital administrator Traci Collins said the hospital is short on all duties.
We have lost some staff to travel into smaller hospitals that are offering more money, she said.
Nurses who would normally rely on five patients are now caring for eight, and she is being forced to shift her staff around to run infusion centers while treating COVID-19 patients.
Ive told my staff (and) to my managers that we can do nothing less than we can, and to keep the morale up.
For some healthcare professionals, the allure of healthcare positions outside of COVID units, with less stress and higher pay, is a draw. For some entry-level positions, the hospital must compete with local businesses, like big box stores and fast food restaurants, who are increasing pay to combat worker shortages.
A lot of people are in entry level positions, they realized real quickly if healthcare is for them or not, Collins said, because the things that we see, the things that we deal with, the exposure that you do have.
Mendoza, a medical social worker, said overcrowded hospitals resulted in worsening outcomes and blaming for the healthcare workers who must navigate them.
When you have a good nurse-to-patient ratio, mistakes begin happening, the patients dont receive the best treatment, and then the nurses are just spreading too thin, she said.
Mendoza, a college where she worked, has paid travel nurses more than their regular employees. In some instances, travel nurses may double or triple the amount of regular nurse pay to treat COVID-19. This was one reason she saw many of her nurse colleagues leave.
Her new job as a medical social worker in a hospice agency is expensive and she feels like a much better situation, she said.
Im able to show up more for my family and friends, she said. In general, I feel like I have more to give, because the life isnt being sucked out of me.