An emergency room doctor in the US has taken the public inside her hospital to reveal the daily stress faced by frontline health workers as the pandemic spirals out of control in the country.
Megan Ranney is an emergency physician who works at the Rhode Island Hospital and is an associate professor at Brown University. She recently recorded a full shift on the hospital ward for a podcast episode with Andy Slavitt, a former senior healthcare official with the Obama administration.
“Like pretty much everywhere across the country right now, we are experiencing a massive increase in the number of people who are being diagnosed with Covid-19, the number of people who are hospitalised with Covid-19 and the number of people in our intensive care unit,” she said.
The shift was recorded on Monday (local time), the day before a temporary field clinic was opened in Rhode Island to deal with the surge in patients, and two days before the country recorded 3157 new daily coronavirus deaths, smashing its previous record during the pandemic.
Dr Ranney described each day as “anxiety provoking” saying she has to get herself mentally prepared before beginning her rounds for every Covid shift.
“I know I’m not going to be able to drink for hours on end because I’m going to be wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment),” she said.
“And then there’s always that little bit of worry in the back of my head about what if I catch it today.”
While she once brought a reusable coffee cup and drink bottle with her, now everything she takes in must be disposable.
With a flurry of hospital sounds in the background, Dr Ranney commentates her shift as emergency room staff triages patients.
As she eats lunch outside where it’s safer, a queue of ambulances can be heard as they line up to bring patients into the hospital.
“It just keeps going, the patients keep coming in,” she says.
In the afternoon, she didn’t intubate anyone – a fact she tells listeners she is grateful for. “We’ve tried to move away from intubation in general as we know that it often dooms people.”
At one point as she conducts her rounds, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor starts playing over the sound system.
“That means we just discharged a Covid patient,” she says. “I have not heard that music played in a while.”
Dr Ranney laments the confused public health messaging from leaders in the country and speaks about the “fear and anxiety” she hears daily from family members of patients who have been admitted – many of them still relatively young.
“One of the scary things about Covid for me, as someone in my mid 40s, is that I take care of a lot of folks who are in their 30s and 40s who don’t have pre-existing conditions, who would seem perfectly healthy to you or me, but for whatever reason didn’t do well with Covid,” she told the podcast host.
Following the Thanksgiving holiday which saw millions of people travel across the country, healthcare workers are bracing for worse to come.
“Our health system is on the edge and we’re looking at a cascade of hundred and hundreds of new infections,” Dr Ranney said of her state.
Nurses wanted: Swamped hospitals scramble help
Hospitals across the US slammed with Covid-19 are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licences and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.
With the virus surging from coast to coast, the number of patients in the hospital with the virus has more than doubled over the past month to a record high of nearly 100,000, pushing medical centres and healthcare workers to breaking point.
Nurses are increasingly burned out and getting sick on the job, and the stress on the nation’s medical system prompted a dire warning from the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The reality is December, January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Dr Robert Redfield said.
Governors in hard-hit states like Wisconsin and Nebraska are making it easier for retired nurses to come back, including waiving licensing requirements and fees, though it can be a tough sell for older nurses.
Iowa is allowing temporary, emergency licences for new nurses who have met the state’s educational requirements but haven’t yet taken the state licensing exam, while some Minnesota hospitals are offering winter internships to nursing students to boost staff levels.
Healthcare salaries spike as virus spreads ‘like wildfire’
Wisconsin-based healthcare facilities are offering signing bonuses of up to $US15,000 ($20,000) for nurses with a year of experience.
Hospitals also are turning to nurses who travel from state to state. But that’s expensive, because hospitals around the country are competing for them, driving salaries as high as $US6,200 per week ($8,340), according to postings for travel nursing jobs.
Nurses who work in intensive care and on medical-surgical floors are the most in demand. Employers also are willing to pay extra for nurses who can show up on short notice and work 48 or 60 hours per week instead of the standard 36.
Several states reported huge numbers of new cases on Wednesday, including a combined 40,000 in California, Illinois and Florida alone as the country recorded its deadliest day yet.
States are seeing record-breaking surges in deaths, including Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in the middle of the country. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said the virus is “spreading like wildfire.”
A COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become available in a few weeks, and healthcare workers are likely to be given priority for the first shots. That could make it easier for hospitals to recruit help.
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