Treating COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit for the past 19 months often reminds Paul Fuller, a registered nurse in Wenatchee, of his time in the U.S. Army.
Fuller began his nursing career as an Army medic and spent 14 months deployed to Iraq, he said Thursday evening in a panel with other nurses hosted online by the state Department of Health.
“This feels like a deployment. A really long, miserable deployment,” said Fuller, who works at Central Washington Hospital. “This has been one of the hardest years I’ve ever experienced.”
During the panel, Fuller and other nurses voiced concerns of deepening discouragement among health care workers who have been strained throughout the pandemic — acknowledging that recent months of combating the infectious delta variant, combined with seeing increased virus misinformation and patient pushback on vaccinations, have worsened the stress.
Julia Barcott, an ICU nurse at Astria Toppenish Hospital in Yakima County, said that before the pandemic, she would normally spend time with friends or volunteer in her community after work. Nowadays, she often goes straight home when her shift is up.
“As a coping mechanism, I don’t want to be around anyone,” she said. “I’m emotionally drained.”
It’s not just the weight of the pandemic, she added, instead pointing to hospitals’ lack of long-term support for staff.
“Hospitals agree (staff shortages) are a problem, but they’re the only ones with the tools to take care of us,” Barcott said.
Barcott is one of many health care workers — including nurses, pharmacists, technicians, therapists and aides — in Washington who are joining a growing call for hospitals to offer more financial and sustainable support to their staff as they work through the pandemic’s continued strain on the state’s medical systems. Other types of front-line workers, like grocery store employees, have received some hazard pay for their efforts during the pandemic, but health care employees have been largely excluded from that group.