Virginia nurses warn pandemic-related burnout could worsen the nursing shortage


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — The Virginia Nurses Association warns we are on the verge of a patient care disaster.

The VNA held a virtual news conference to address what they call a “recipe for disaster”: the influx of unvaccinated patients due to the delta variant surge and a nursing shortage that’s getting worse.

Meanwhile, the state is reporting its highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate since mid-February, according to data analysts. A recent report also noted that the more than 2,000 patients currently hospitalized with coronavirus statewide represent a nearly 10-fold increase from the number recorded in mid-July.

At the beginning of the pandemic, people celebrated health care workers and called them heroes. But 18 months later, Virginia nurses say they’re often under attack.

“Those double doors open and sometimes it’s like an angry mob,” said Ashley Fogleman, a relief charge nurse in Abingdon.

They are often confronted by families who want to know why their loved one is still waiting for a hospital bed or why they are being asked to wear a mask inside the hospital.

“It’s so simple yet the civility has somehow gone awry,” said Virginia Hospital Center’s Chief Nursing Officer Melody Dickerson.

A panel of nurses from across Virginia talked about the toll the pandemic is taking on their profession.

“We have had suicides of nurses and other health care professionals. We’ve also had nurses who have over the last six months have lost tremendous amounts of weight … they can’t get emotionally settled and they just stopped eating,” VNA President Linda Shepherd said.

A look at the state dashboard shows Virginia has plenty of hospital beds to care for COVID-19 patients: more than 2,000 hospital beds are available statewide but surges are causing near-capacity conditions in Southwest Virginia, where vaccination rates are generally lower. The nurses explained the problem is there’s not enough of them to go around.

“We are all spending every day and every shift trying to figure out how to move nurses from one area to another so that we have some semblance of safe staffing,” Dickerson said.

Now, VNA says some nurses are leaving the profession because of the physical, mental and emotional stress.

Virginia Hospital Center ICU nurse Sheri Harsanyi talked about the physical stress.

“You might have to change your scrubs three times a day because you have sweated through your nursing uniform you know just the work intensity of trying to rescue and stabilize a COVID patient,” she said.

Critical Care Nurse Aliese Harrison teared up while describing an encounter with a patient last week.

“I had a man in his 40s, a big man, grip my hand and just hold my hand and squeeze it so hard it hurt and tell me how afraid he was,” she recounted. This, as they prepared to intubate him and explain that he would be unconscious for up to three weeks.

“Imagine the worst day you’ve ever had at work then add human suffering, death, personal risk and repeat it every day for 18 months,” said Nurse Practitioner Ashely Apple, who works in Richmond.

The VNA’s plea to the community is to show some kindness.

“We’ve been the front line of this pandemic for the last 18 months and what we’re asking the community to do now is for you to be the front line,” VNA Board Member Mesha Jones said.

You can do that she added, by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and washing your hands.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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