In my home state of Alabama, only 33% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s healthcare workers are feeling a punch to the gut as new coronavirus cases have climbed 574% over a short period of time. Fueled by the delta variant, the state’s hospitalization rate has tripled in a few short weeks. I echo the words of many in the medical community by saying “I don’t know if I can do this again”.
I work in a hospital, but not on a unit that provides direct care to COVID-19 positive patients. Earlier in the pandemic, I felt guilty whenever burn out began to creep in. I often thought “Shouldn’t burn out be reserved for those caring for COVID patients day after day?” Today, Alabama’s new daily case rate mimics the same numbers as 12 months ago. And, I now realize everyone working in healthcare has been affected both personally and professionally by coronavirus. What led up to my own professional mic drop moment?
Caring for patients with devastating long hauler syndrome
Maintaining a high standard of care without adequate staffing, supplies and other resources
Working routine overtime because of your own personal responsibility to support your peers
Facing the words “there is no one”, “you’ll have to make do” and “you have no choice” when asking the house supervisor for additional help
No pay increase in the past 18 months
Hope that disappears when large numbers of new hires resign within the first 4 weeks
Frequent floating with high nurse patient ratios
Alarming number of rapid response calls and code blues
Nurses are only part of an exhausted healthcare community. We are joined by food and environmental services, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physicians, nursing assistants, patient services… and the list goes on.
A string of public pleas have been issued throughout the state, imploring the unvaccinated to seek vaccination. The frustration is almost palpable in each plea.
Governor’s Harsh Words
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey had harsh words for the state’s unvaccinated, stating “these folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain”. Ivey went on to blame the state’s unvaccinated population for the rising coronavirus cases.
Alabama received billions in relief funds as part of the stimulus package passed the year. However, the state is not using the federal relief for incentive programs like scholarships and lotteries. According to the National Governors Association, Alabama is offering a few small incentives:
The Talladega Superspeedway is offering the opportunity to drive 2 laps behind a pace car for being tested and/or vaccinated.
The Alabama Department of Public Health is sponsoring a TikTok contest to encourage vaccination before the start of the new school year. Four winners will be selected and each will receive a $250 Visa gift card.
Doctor’s Emotional Plea
Dr. Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, posted an emotional plea for vaccination on facebook that has made news across the U.S. Cobia wrote the post after caring for young healthy patients with very serious COVID infections. She describes patients begging for the vaccine right before they are intubated. She writes, “I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late”. You can read Dr. Cobia’s full post here.
Tuskegee Tragedy Lingers
Many Black Alabamians have a deep seeded mistrust of the medical community stemming from the Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. In 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service recruited hundreds of rural Black men to participate in a syphilis study, but never explained that the study was designed to withhold medical treatment. Study participants were not injected with syphilis, but those who had it were not treated, even when penicillin was available. The suffering caused by the unethical study still echoes today, despite federal laws that prohibit this from occurring again. This tragedy contributes to vaccination hesitancy within the state.
Mounting Personal Toll
I’m not alone in questioning my ability to withstand another COVID-19 surge in my current nursing position. Healthcare workers are experiencing burn-out in high numbers and reporting significant psychological distress. Many are responding to the stress and trauma by misusing alcohol and other substances. It’s time for professional organizations and the healthcare industry to do more to support workers moving forward.
What About You?
Are you considering a mic-drop departure from your workplace? What do you need to reverse your burn-out?
In Tuskegee, Painful History Shadows Efforts To Vaccinate African Americans