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Pandemic Toll: Healthcare workers say COVID-19 changed them, and the industry

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The pandemic has been difficult on all of us and none more than those who have been on the frontlines in our hospitals.

Seeing people suffering and losing their lives almost daily has taken a toll. Nurses and doctors I spoke with say this pandemic will not only have an impact on them as individuals, but it will change the healthcare industry for the foreseeable future.

“Heartbreaking at times,” Michelle Robinson, Goshen Hospital Med-Surg Nurse says.

Seeing tragedy first hand as COVID patients struggle to survive, and some don’t make it.

“The most challenging thing I think initially was seeing some of these patients who haven’t seen their families for months and months.” Dr. Ethan Ebner says. He practices Internal Medicine at Spectrum Health Lakeland. “And the families still can’t visit and their hanging on to your every word on the phone crying every day.”

It was just too hard for many.

“Yes, we’ve had a lot of staff transition to other areas in nursing that are less stressful. We’ve had nurses leave nursing altogether,” Goshen Hospital ICU Nurse Lori Bontrager says.

That trend is likely to continue. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from this spring found 3 out of 10 healthcare workers have considered quitting because of COVID-19.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/04/22/health-workers-covid-quit/

The International Council of Nurses projects a global shortfall of 10 million nurses by 2030. They say COVID-19 could take that number to 14 million. Burnout is a big problem.

https://dailynurse.com/?s=COVID+effect

In a pandemic filled with negatives, there is one bright spot.

“I want to say that I think we are going to be more prepared,” Robinson says.

“I think our health care industry has learned a lot on how to respond to global pandemics and also to realize to take them a lot more seriously. There are 7 billion people on the planet and this just may be the dry run. The next one could be Ebola,” Dr. Ebner says.

“We have just become more resilient as a community,” Dr. Sanam Shah, Hospitalist at Spectrum Health says. “This is something that won’t easily go away.”

Healthcare workers will need that resiliency as COVID is likely to stick around awhile as more cases continue around the country. Mask wearing, social distancing, strict sanitation practices all likely to continue for a good while.

One of the unfortunate lasting impacts on the health care industry will be the memories, the sadness, and the trauma.

“I think we’ve realized that we have strength that we didn’t know we had,” Bontrager says.

Growing in emotional strength, but holding memories that will that won’t easily fade. I asked Michelle Robinson how a person moves on from being immersed in an environment ravaged by COVID-19.

“Well one day at a time,” she says. “It’s not going to go away but I think that knowing that we got to play a role in people’s lives that’s enough for me. That’s enough to know that I made a difference in the community that I work for and I take a lot of pride in that.”

The health care providers I spoke with believe we’ve still got a ways to go to fully get out of this pandemic, when or if the healthcare industry will return to normal remains to be seen.

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