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Many nurses feel 'burned out' from pandemic

“We gave our heart to the patients."
Posted at 9:15 AM, Jul 02, 2021

TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KERO) — The pandemic has pushed many health care professionals to the limit. According to a recent Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation poll 3 in 10 have considered getting out of the profession. While 6 in 10 say the pandemic has burned them out. That's something you may have experienced firsthand -- or maybe you've gotten a glimpse of it through a loved one or friend.

On one afternoon at a Tehachapi hospital nurses soak up a moment of calm following more than a year of anything but. And on this day it’s about helping them.

“Coming off of the year of 2020 and the pandemic, which was really a difficult year for most. A really tiring year,” said Heather Van Housen, a patient care executive at Adventist Health. “We gave our heart to the patients who needed our help.”

“Bring them a little art, and relaxation and fun,” added artist Jennifer Williams-Cordova.

Hope at times was hard to come by when Grover Street worked in Tehachapi in the fall.

"It was a stressful time during the time I was there."

When asked if he predominantly worked with COVID patients in Tehachapi, he replied: "I would work 12, 16-hour shifts. I'd finish up in the ICU and then go help out in the emergency room for a few hours before I went home."

Street is among the thousands of travel nurses crisscrossing the country during the pandemic, parachuting into hospitals in need of nurses.

"It was a mission and it was my duty, so I had to rise above any kind of stress level.”

Street has since moved on but some travel nurses stayed until the end of June.

Since August of last year, Kern County has allocated more than $12 million to hire roughly 180 travel nurses to help fill holes. In some cases when the caregivers themselves got COVID-19.

“I worked a shift and had a horrible headache. I left here and went home and just went basically straight to bed," explained nurse Michelle Jellie. "Woke up the next morning and I had basically every symptom you could think of. I knew in my heart I already had it.”

Jellie is back at work now, but she missed five weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.

“It was scary because you've seen other patients. You know what they’ve gone through and I don't want to be that sick."

"There is a time and a place for travel nurses and they were instrumental in helping out when our nurses were sick," said Sandy Reding, the president of the California Nurses Association.

They've helped bridge a pandemic-related gap.

"The things that nurses were telling us, they were just drowning," continued Reding. "So much patient care they couldn't get there. Some of them did leave the profession. Some of them also left the hospital setting and went to different settings."

Leaving the industry ripe for burnout.

"I had a nurse tell me 'I can't unsee what I saw during the pandemic,' explained Kathy Kohnke with Fastaff Travel Nursing. "There’s going to be a trickle-down effect of people leaving."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half a million registered nurses are anticipated to retire by 2022. Leaving more openings than any other profession nationwide.

The state of California will face the highest nursing shortage by 2030 according to some reports. Nearly 45,000 registered nurses will be needed. The head of California's nurses union says one thing California nurses have that others in different states don't are patient ratios.

"I think it also depends on where you live. We have two nursing schools in town, there shouldn't be a shortage," said Reding. "I think what needs to happen is public education needs to be funding so we can expand the nursing programs and make sure that we are actually hiring the nurses in our own communities once they graduate."

That makes getting the next generation of nurses up to speed - like Katie Henderson - all that more important

"I've been a waitress my whole life and I just decided one day like I'm ready to just do something that'd more fulfilling."

Henderson: answering the calling that pulls so many registered nurses to the profession.

"I know it's going to be challenging. It's going to be hard to get into that field but I'm ready for the challenge."

When it comes to solutions some hospitals across the nation are changing how they retain nurses, like offering tuition reimbursements. There are nurse-to-patient ratios in California which other states don't have which is a big selling point.

Studies show nursing shortages ultimately impact patient care.