Facing pandemic burnout, Washington state health care workers join growing call for more long-term staff support

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.

THE SEATTLE TIMES: Facing pandemic burnout, Washington state health care workers join growing call for more long-term staff support (10/30/21)