ROUND ROCK, Texas- As two years since the emergence of COVID-19 approaches, the negative long-term effects of the pandemic on healthcare are becoming more apparent.
The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Texas has started to flatten out to a stable level after it began its downward trend following the most recent peak in August/September, according to the CDC website. Yet, local hospitals are seeing very little relief, if any. With the rise and fall of COVID-19 infections starting to seem routine, long-term effects of the pandemic on healthcare are starting to show.
While nurses continue to be a main group struggling both physically and mentally as the pandemic continues, there are more challenges that they will have to face even after it passes. Preston Candelas, a 23 year old ICU nurse at St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center (SDRRMC), started his career about a year and a half ago. He believes that he has already seen more deaths in that time than some nurses see in 10 years.
“One of my biggest concerns is burnout. That’s a term usually used with veteran nurses who’ve dealt with a lot of death during their career and decide to leave the bedside because of it,” Candelas said. “Experiencing this amount of death so early in my career makes me worried I’ll get burnout and leave this field much sooner than I would have otherwise.”
Even though the number of COVID-19 patients is currently at one of its lowest levels since the pandemic started, the threat of premature burnout remains present. Beds that were being used by COVID-19 patients are now rapidly filling up with people suffering from other conditions. So, as the data from the CDC displayed in the graph above shows, the number of overall patients in hospitals is not budging. That, along with the massive labor shortages that continue to plague the U.S., hospitals are still needing nurses to cover additional shifts.
To make matters more difficult, many hospitals, including SDRRMC, cannot sustain the high rates of compensation they have been paying nurses for working additional shifts, and soon they will be returning to their lower pre COVID-19 bonus rates. Even as COVID-19 hospitalization continues to decline, hospitals continue to battle other budget issues as well. This information comes from SDRRMC Chief Financial Officer, Laura Wiess, 51, who also said that the staff continues to be the hospital’s biggest financial concern.
“We are experiencing high turnover rates, which is costly, and low fill rates, especially in nursing areas. So, we are having to use more contract labor, which is also costly, to try and fill the gaps,” Wiess said. “We are taking steps to try to make this a better place to work for our staff so that they want to come here and want to stay here.”
Wiess said that FEMA staff, who the hospital does not have to pay, will be leaving by Dec. 1, which will force the hospital to hire more contract labor to fill their gaps. Overall, the hospital is making budget, but is still having to allocate more funds to staffing than normal that could otherwise be put towards facility and equipment improvements and advancement.
Across the board, the condition of the staff appears to be of the most importance to the hospital. CEO of SDRRMC, Jeremy Barclay, 44, said that his biggest personal concern is the mental health and well-being of all the hospital’s staff.
“Obviously the nurses, but also the respiratory therapists, housekeeping, pharmacists, physical therapists and many others interact with the patients and are experiencing the death and tragedy, which is having a significant impact on their well-being,” Barclay said. “All the dying we’ve experienced over the last 18 months is taking a tremendous toll on the people who are giving and sacrificing so much, trying to prevent all of it.”
He also said that they really focus on celebrating every win in the hospital, no matter how small. They do this to help raise the spirits and mentality of the staff members and keep them from becoming numb to their successes, which the hospital believes they should be proud of.
Barclay said that the hospital has no idea when the pandemic will no longer play a significant role in day-to-day life, or what kind of impacts it will continue to have. None the less, supporting the hospital staff’s health will continue to be the hospitals biggest priority, just as it always has been.