COVID-19 patient uptick and staff shortages leave area nurses overworked

Nurses across Nebraska are growing increasingly exhausted as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to drastically increase as the state sees it's biggest surge since the pandemic began. 

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Nurses across Nebraska are growing increasingly exhausted as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to drastically increase as the state sees it’s biggest surge since the pandemic began.

“If there’s anybody experiencing pandemic fatigue it’s healthcare workers, we are tired,” says a local nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect herself and job.

The nurse tells Channel 8 News she believes the hospitals are doing a great job of trying to mitigate staff stress and manage long shifts and extra hours, but that they could be more transparent with their communities about the struggles they’re facing.

“We talk about hospital bed [capacity] in the news a lot, and it’s like yeah, you may have a bed but you don’t have a nurse to take care of you in that bed and that’s often forgotten.”

Staff shortages in the hospital systems are forcing nurses and other staff to work longer or in areas of the hospital they don’t normally work.

Jessica Burke, who agreed to be identified, works in Omaha. She says another factor contributing to short staffing is nurses themselves catching COVID-19.

“It’s been frightening as an emergency room nurse because you see it firsthand, you know your staff and they’re getting really ill and you want the general population to understand this is not political, COVID is real,” Burke says. “It’s affecting us a lot more than in March.”

Another nurse, who also wished to remain anonymous, says she occasionally works in more rural hospitals. Some of which, only have up to 12 beds. She says she’s  afraid of contracting the virus and spreading it to her loved ones. 

“I’m fearful everyday I go home that I’ll give it to my husband and my kids.”

Although additional CARES Act money has been distributed to major hospitals in the state, including Bryan Health where they are now offering $5,000 bonuses for nurse referrals, many nurses say the money is helpful, but that doesn’t eliminate their risk.

“Even if we do get extra money to work a shift it’s still an extra exposure,” Burke says. “If I was diagnosed with COVID I’d be scared. Because I’ve seen it and I see what it does.”

Burke and the anonymous nurses say they understand this is their job and they know what they signed up for. They reiterate that they will continue to help any patient that crosses their path, but that it’s offensive and angering to see many community members pretend COVID-19 isn’t a problem. 

“We’re drowning, we’re working overtime and we are stretching. Patient ratios are up and then we see our communities having football games and parties and weddings and all of these things that are adding to the patients and stress – it feels like a kick in the face” one nurse says.

With loose restrictions, masks mandated in only Lincoln and Omaha, the nurses tell Channel 8 News that communities can and need to do better.

“When the pandemic began, we were called heroes. We’re not heroes. We’re just people that care and we need everyone else to care too,” says another.

Although there is no quick fix to increasing hospital staff, nurses agree that a decreased patient population in all facilities would help dramatically. Many facilities are relying on traveling nurses to boost staff numbers and give current nurses a break.

Categories: Lancaster, Nebraska News, News, Top Stories