Director of Clinical Education for Memorial Health Erin Russo, pictured above, joined Gov. Mike DeWine at his Thursday press conference to speak about the effects of COVID-19 on hospital staffs. Russo, along with employees from hospitals throughout the state, shared the emotional and logistical tolls of the recent increase in virus cases. She said nurses are becoming tired and fearful as staff members are infected or quarantined. (Photo submitted)
A Memorial Health nurse spoke at Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference Thursday to share the logistical and emotional tolls COVID-19 is taking on hospital staffs.
Director of Clinical Education for Memorial Health Erin Russo said weathering the current surge in coronavirus cases feels even more taxing than running a marathon.
“Endurance is finite and nurses are human,” she said.
Russo noted that Memorial Health is experiencing the “highest volumes to date” of COVID-19 patients in its emergency room. She said many require in-patient care and a number have progressed to needing critical care.
Union County has experienced 1,623 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The death toll has risen to seven, while 73 individuals have required hospitalization.
The issue is compounded, she said, by the fact that Midwest hospitals are in a “high tide period” in which hospital occupancy is typically high, even without COVID-19.
As cases have increased, Russo said the worries she experiences have shifted.
Russo said hospital employees were initially worried about how to keep patients safe, as well as their families at home.
Now, she said many staff members are feeling the stress of coworkers in quarantine.
Rather than worrying about PPE and ventilators available, or even bed space, Russo said many nurses are anxious that there will not be enough staff to care for patients.
“We can manufacture equipment and we can manufacture supplies and we can create spaces to place beds and put people in, but what we can’t manufacture are staff members that are skilled enough to care for those patients,” Russo said.
She became emotional as she spoke about the potential effects limited staffing could have on patients.
“Our most unsettling fear is the fact that we could have the threat of patient care being compromised in some way,” Russo said.
She said dealing with the virus impacts the emotional well-being of patients and nurses, alike.
Many nurses are wearing full PPE, which Russo said makes it difficult to communicate with patients and other hospital staff members.
She said a number of elderly patients struggle to speak with the nurses while wearing PPE and some fail to understand why they are hospitalized.
Beyond that, it complicates nurses’ efforts to speak with each other for logistical or even emotional support.
“I don’t know that I can articulate what it feels like for a nurse and our ancillary staff members to have that barrier and just continue on,” Russo said.
While they have been facing COVID-19 for months, Russo said hospitals still see the biggest “tidal wave” coming.
Although the high influx of patients “gives us great anxiety,” she said there are ways to slow the spread of the virus in the community.
Russo urged residents to take precautions in line with Gov. DeWine’s guidance, like wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands frequently.
“They seem like miniscule tasks, but to us it could make the greatest difference,” she said.
For now, she said nurses are leaning on one another and trying to gear their perspectives toward an end in sight.
“The reason we walk in these doors and take on these sacrifices is because we care about the patients lying in the bed,” she said through tears.
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