Nurses Everywhere Are Quitting Because They're Burnt Out From COVID

by Christina Marfice

Nurses are burning out after almost two years of battling the pandemic, and who can even blame them?

As the delta variant fuels a continuing surge in COVID cases that is, in some states and counties, worse than at any other point in the pandemic, there’s now another dangerous factor to consider as we battle the virus: Medical staff shortages. All over the country, nurses are burning out after spending almost two years putting their lives on the line for a country full of people who won’t mask, social distance, or get vaccinated. Now they’re leaving the medical field in droves, causing crippling shortages. And who can even blame them?

In California, a lack of nurses in hospitals has reached a “crisis point,” according to local officials. At one Eureka hospital, just in the last month, four emergency room nurses have quit, saying they can no longer take the onslaught of patients and emotional turmoil that comes with treating thousands of people dying from a disease that is now preventable.

“On the bad days, I think ‘What am I doing and is this what I want to be doing?'” trauma nurse Matt Miele told Cal Matters. “It’s shifting me to my core.”

Miele is now one of the many nurses around the nation looking for a new job — something less stressful and traumatic.

“Some days coming home from the hospital I yell at God, I yell at myself, I yell at COVID and cry. And that’s all before I pull into my driveway,” says Bakersville ICU nurse Mary Lynn Briggs. She shares that out of dozens of COVID patients she’s treated, only three survived the virus. “There have been multiple nights where I swear I am tired and I need a night off, and then I get a call from somebody saying we’re going to give the nurse three patients, so I go in because I don’t want anyone to work out of ratio,” she says.

But this crisis extends far beyond California. Across the nation, hospitals are offering signing bonuses up to $40,000, better benefits, and high hourly wages in a desperate attempt to lure nurses through their doors. In two of the hardest-hit states in the delta variant’s surge, the reasons for these desperate measures are clear: In Florida, 70 percent of hospitals now face critical staffing shortages, and in Texas, there are currently 23,000 nursing job vacancies with no one to fill them.

Oregon has called in the National Guard to help staff hospitals. Officials in Florida are urging sick and injured people to “consider other options” before they call 911. In Houston, a man with six gunshot wounds had to wait a week before he could get surgery.

While the shortage is affecting states’ ability to care for COVID patients, it has effects that ripple far beyond the pandemic. The New York Times reported earlier this week that patients were dying in their cars outside a small Mississippi hospital where 30 percent of the beds were empty — there just wasn’t enough staff to admit more patients.

“It’s like a war zone,” said Cyndy O’Brien, the patient care coordinator at that hospital. “We are just barraged with patients and have nowhere to put them. We’re exhausted, both physically and emotionally.”