Kayla Mitchell, a vital care nurse within the COVID-19 unit at Portland’s Maine Medical Middle, made historical past in December 2020 when she grew to become the primary Maine resident to get vaccinated towards the virus.
It was the primary signal of hope after months of uncertainty.
But greater than a yr later – due to a pair of cussed coronavirus variants – the pandemic stays uncontrolled, and it’s placing extra pressure than ever on well being care employees like Mitchell.
“I’d say as an entire, it’s fairly discouraging to nonetheless be within the thick of it after (almost) two years,” stated Mitchell, 32, of Scarborough. “However my religion within the vaccine has not wavered. I see it day by day. For the reason that vaccine rollout, the overwhelming majority of sufferers in my ICU are unvaccinated. The vaccines and boosters are working to maintain folks out of right here.”
Sadly, the virus is working simply as exhausting. The newest variant, omicron, has confirmed to be much more transmissible than something seen up to now, and it has pushed circumstances to their highest ranges by far each in Maine and throughout the nation.
Some analysis has urged that it could be a milder pressure, however due to the sheer quantity of recent virus transmission, many people are nonetheless ending up within the hospital. And regardless that Maine has the next vaccination price than most states, there are nonetheless tens of 1000’s of people throughout the state who haven’t gotten any photographs.
This week, there have been greater than 400 COVID-19 sufferers within the hospital for the primary time throughout the pandemic. The quantity dropped to 395 on Tuesday, however hospitalizations have been at a sustained excessive stage for months. An estimated 70 % of all folks hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated and the proportion is even larger for these in vital care.
The omicron surge, which is resulting in extra breakthrough circumstances among the many absolutely vaccinated, has created one other drawback as properly: Increasingly well being care employees are being pressured to name out sick after being contaminated or uncovered.
“We’re the busiest we’ve ever been within the two years throughout your complete pandemic,” stated Britney Meunier, 28, who additionally works in Maine Med’s COVID-19 vital care unit and these days has been choosing up additional time shifts to assist out throughout employees shortages. “We’re seeing the sickest sufferers in your complete state, and it’s far more bodily and emotionally difficult.”
Shannon Calvert, 49, who has labored at Maine Med for 25 years, stated the wave of sufferers is draining, however “we’re holding our personal.”
“We’re seeing sicker and youthful sufferers,” she stated. “We’re being extremely impacted by people who find themselves not getting vaccinated. We simply want folks would get vaccinated, and we encourage folks to get vaccinated so we are able to tackle extra sufferers who are usually not COVID sufferers.”
STAFF OUTAGES SURGE
At each MaineHealth and Northern Mild Well being – the state’s two greatest hospital techniques – employees outages are at their highest ranges of the pandemic. Northern Mild had an estimated 500 employees out earlier this week, greater than 4 % of its employees. On Monday, 125 employees members at MaineGeneral in Augusta had been out sick, about 3 % of its workforce.
To assist handle hospital shortages and alleviate capability constraints, Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday that she was sending a further 169 Maine Nationwide Guard members to hospitals.
“I want we didn’t need to take this step,” she stated in an announcement.
The governor additionally introduced that the Federal Emergency Administration Company has accredited a request for COVID-19 Surge Response Groups for MaineHeath in Portland and Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston. The 2 groups, consisting of a complete of seven nurses and pharmacists, started arriving Monday and are scheduled to remain via Jan. 27. They may administer vaccines to release hospital employees to hold out different duties.
“We’re within the midst of essentially the most tough time of your complete pandemic for hospitals. We’re stretched to our mattress capability limits, all of the whereas increasingly of our staff are out resulting from COVID exposures. The stress on our caregivers can’t be overstated,” stated Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Affiliation.
Paul Bolin, senior vice chairman of human assets for Northern Mild Well being, stated the present challenges are monumental, however he additionally praised the employees for doing their half.
“We’ve actually been specializing in flexibility of workforce these days,” he stated. “We’ve reassigned folks to jobs that could be completely different from their common job, and even directors and assist employees doing affected person screening and delivering meals trays. We’re making an attempt to ensure we’re as nimble as doable.”
CROSS-TRAINING TO STAY NIMBLE
Mitchell stated that’s been true at Maine Medical Middle as properly.
“I’d say that Maine Med and the vital care models have finished an ideal job of sustaining protected staffing ratios,” she stated. “I’m not being requested to do greater than I can deal with.”
Kate Dickens, a cost nurse within the medical/surgical unit at Northern Mild Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth, stated the present surge comes at a time when everybody in well being care is drained.
“We’ve fought the exhausting combat for a very long time,” she stated in a collection of movies shared by Northern Mild employees. “And it looks like from right here on out, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
Dickens stated she and plenty of of her colleagues know sufferers who find yourself within the hospital with COVID, which makes the work doubly tough.
“We lean on each other as well being care employees to attempt to get via the day,” she stated.
Even earlier than the latest employees outages, Dickens stated she’s seen co-workers go away “resulting from stress, burnout, or to pursue different alternatives.” Some selected to go away due to the statewide vaccine mandate for well being care employees, she stated.
Some well being care suppliers throughout the U.S. are taking the extraordinary step of permitting nurses and different employees contaminated with the coronavirus to remain on the job if they’ve delicate signs or none in any respect, regardless that there’s threat of spreading the virus additional.
That hasn’t been widespread in Maine, though St. Mary’s in Lewiston stated this week that it has allowed some COVID-positive employees to come back in and work with contaminated sufferers.
Calvert stated working shifts at Maine Med is “consistently emotionally taxing and bodily taxing.” To enter a COVID-19 room, nurses and docs need to gear up with scorching and uncomfortable private protecting gear and preserve it on for 4 hours whereas caring for some sufferers.
“For folks to suppose the pandemic is over, that’s so removed from the reality,” added Meunier, the COVID-19 vital care unit nurse at Maine Med.
NURSES VERBALLY ABUSED
The stress isn’t simply associated to affected person care, both. Calvert stated one or two occasions per week, a well being care employee on the COVID-19 unit will get verbally abused by a affected person or a member of the family of a affected person.
“We’re known as liars and murderers and that we’re making issues up and that we’re ‘killing’ these sufferers with these remedies we’re giving them and that they agreed to take. And but they received’t get vaccinated,” she stated. “We’re being verbally abused often. It’s brutal, like nothing I’ve ever skilled.”
Mitchell stated a lot of the sufferers underneath her care are on “full life assist,” and wish help respiratory.
“Whereas they’re right here, it’s most remedy,” she stated. “We’re offering them with every little thing.”
Sadly, many die, and people who survive are sometimes there many, many weeks.
“If there’s one factor I might say it’s that: Each one that will get vaccinated helps us as a result of that’s nearly definitely somebody who received’t find yourself within the ICU.”
Requested whether or not any sufferers have expressed remorse about not getting vaccinated, Mitchell stated it hasn’t occurred to her, however solely as a result of by the point she sees them, they’re typically intubated and might’t converse.
Employees Author Joe Lawlor contributed to this story