YOUR LIFE YOUR HEALTH

Frontline health care workers say they’re burned out, experiencing staffing shortages

Sep 9, 2021, 9:52 AM | Updated: 10:00 am

LAYTON, Utah — No one’s taken the brunt of the pandemic like health care workers on the frontline. The unrelenting cases of COVID-19 have brought many to their breaking point. Three caregivers at Layton Hospital are sharing how their job affects them personally.

Eighteen months later and they’re still showing up for work to care for patients with COVID-19.

“So I think initially, I was kind of excited to be a part of that,” said Adam Young, a registered nurse who works in the medical/surgical and ICU unit. “To be able to say, ‘Man, you know, in 2020, 2021, I’ve been able to care for these patients through the pandemic.'”

But Young said that excitement has now been replaced by fatigue and grief. He said it’s challenging not knowing what to expect going to work each day.

Intermountain Healthcare nurse Adam Young says he’s burned out and has been pushed beyond his limits recently as he’s continued to care for an increased number of COVID-19 patients. (Photo Credit: Adam Young)

“Waking up and wondering, ‘Am I going to have to hold a dying patient’s hand,’” he described through tears. “To hear somebody my age FaceTime their family and say, ‘Hey, I’m being intubated. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.’ Those are gut-wrenching conversations that I have to hear.”

Young added he’s burned out after months of extreme levels of care.

“How much can I push myself? You know, what’s my breaking point? I still want to give the best care that I possibly can. I know what I signed up for as a nurse and I’ve pushed myself to that limit and beyond,” he described.

Respiratory Therapist Jenelle Waite feels the exhaustion too. “I have experienced quite a bit of compassion fatigue,” she said.

In her 12 years as a therapist, she’s never felt so discouraged. “It’s disheartening,” she said. “A lot of the time, they don’t get better like we expect them to and it’s been really hard for me as a therapist to watch patients decline.”

The recent surge in hospitalizations has her fearful she won’t be able to adequately do her job. “There are only so many of us, we can only be in a couple places at the same time,” Waite said. “I worry that we might not be able to make it in time for someone that needs our help.”

“It’s just this huge behind the scenes shuffling that we’re doing trying to provide adequate coverage,” she said.

Dr. Cabe Clark manages a group of about 30 physicians in the emergency department at Intermountain Layton Hospital. “Some of the hardest things are to see how stressed the team is in the E.D.,” he said. “It’s overwhelming at times.”

Three Intermountain Healthcare caregivers at Layton Hospital expressed exhaustion and burnout personally and for their staff after caring for COVID-19 patients for 18 months now. They say the recent surge in more hospitalizations has only added to the stress. (KSL TV/Josh Szymanik)

He feels responsible for taking care of his team. “You kind of feel like a parent that has a sick kid, right? You can’t really do a ton, you want to help them, but you kind of feel like your hands are tied sometimes. So it’s, challenging,” he added.

Clark sees the consequences firsthand. Recently, at McKay-Dee Hospital, he said the team had to shuffle resources around to meet the demand of their patients. “We had eight nurses who called in sick for over a 24-hour period,” he said.

Two nurse managers who had already worked all day left their families to come back in the evening. “And both of them were like worked to the point of tears, but they had to come in because there was no alternative,” Clark said.

Clark is one of the physicians who went to help in New York last year. He said one of the most frustrating parts of his job is not being able to provide the help patients need quickly enough with limited resources, both personnel and equipment. “We’re maxed out — at capacity,” he said.

The demand has only increased in recent months. “Then to have the ER saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got not one, not two, but three or four patients that we need you to admit,’” Young said. “Where do you want me to admit them? The nurses already have more patients. So we’re being asked to take even more above what we normally would.”

Utah is not immune to the health care shortages the country’s facing nationwide. “I think it’s taken its toll and that’s why we’re short-staffed,” Clark explained. The thought of quitting crosses Young’s mind often. “(It’s) a daily thought. I get emails on a daily basis on open positions throughout the country … for another job that’s, you know, less stressful,” he said.

He said separating work from family life is hard. Young and his wife have a 3-year-old son.

Adam Young is a nurse on the medical/surgical and ICU unit at Intermountain’s Layton Hospital. He says it’s hard not to bring the stress of work home to his family. He and his wife have a 3-year-old son. (Photo Credit: Adam Young)

“The emotional, mental, physical exhaustion from being so burnt out — I know it affects my family,” he said. “When I go home from work, I just want to lay down, I just want to relax, and I’m probably a grouch to be honest with you. I’m probably pretty short with my family and that tears me up because I want to be a loving husband and a loving dad.”

Clark said his work is a constant topic of conversation in his home too. “It’s tough, I have a couple kids in high school and two in junior high,” he said.

Though Waite knows she is protected by her PPE gear, she fears she will bring COVID-19 home to her children who are too young to be vaccinated. “I am in a position where I’m highly exposed to COVID-positive patients,” she said.

They each urge people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “I care for predominantly unvaccinated patients,” Young said.

Though Jenelle Waite knows she is protected by the PPE gear she wears, she still fears she will bring COVID-19 home to her children who are not old enough to be vaccinated yet. (Photo Credit: Audrey Kay Photography)

“They all will look at me and tell me that they wish they would have got the vaccine,” Clark added. “We respect their choice, whether we agree with them or not, but it’s at that moment or when they’re sick and they’re in the hospital so many of them regret that decision.”

“I just wish the public could look beyond what their neighbor says and look at the data, look at the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” Young said.

They also remind people to show extra love to health care workers.

“Treat us with respect, treat us with kindness,” Young asked. “Please don’t take it out on us. I’ve been chewed up one side and down the other by family members.”

“Support them and make sure they’re doing OK because it’s been a really hard time for all of us,” Waite said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Your Life Your Health

Comiske riding her stationary bike, something she does every morning....

Emma Benson

Strategies to lengthen your life

The CDC says, on average, women tend to live 5-7 years longer than men because men have a higher rate of cardiovascular disease, but there are simple, healthy ways to increase your life expectancy.

4 days ago

Chris and Aimee Tyler, speaking about their experience with Chris's pancreatic cancer diagnosis....

Emma Benson

‘Cancer can affect anybody’: Utah couple processes pancreatic cancer diagnosis

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and often goes undetected until it's advanced. One Utah County man is fighting for more time with his loved ones.

11 days ago

Ruth Norton uses the ArthroFit gym to help senior patients prevent, prepare for and recover from su...

Emma Benson

Intermountain program helps seniors fight joint pain, recover from surgery

Ruth Norton has had her fair share of health challenges, including double-knee surgery, open-heart surgery, and breast cancer. 

18 days ago

...

Emma Benson

‘The place we love isn’t healthy’: Millcreek couple weighs decision of moving due to poor air quality

No one is immune to the dangers of air pollution. What if you had to choose between staying in Utah while risking a premature death, or leaving behind family, your career, and your roots to move somewhere new for the sake of your health? One Millcreek couple is facing that exact scenario. #yourlifeyourhealth

25 days ago

Jayde St. Clair (left) with her newborn child being held by her husband....

Emma Benson

How childbirth education classes can help moms prepare for labor

Intermountain Health is offering prenatal courses for parents that cover everything from pregnancy to labor and delivery to postpartum care.

1 month ago

Steve Adams on dialysis...

Emma Benson

Are you at risk for kidney disease? 

Steve Adams is not afraid of making friends, even at the dialysis center. 

1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Frontline health care workers say they’re burned out, experiencing staffing shortages