Health care worker fatigue as COVID-19 cases rise

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Last year’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines brought hope that the worst of the pandemic would soon be over. While cases did slow down — they are rising once again as the more contagious Delta variant spreads.

South Dakota’s Department of Health reports 216 people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized. As those numbers go up, so does the chance of our health care workers becoming more fatigued.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in South Dakota, it took a physical, emotional and mental toll on everyone. But it was health care workers who, everyday, had to answer questions, hold hands with patients and do whatever they could to treat those who came into the ICU.

“You give 100 percent in the room for 12 hours a day and I think it’s just the hardest part–you go home and you question, did you do the right thing? Did you make all the right calls? It’s emotionally draining,” Avera ICU Nurse Abby Hatch said in December of 2020.

Once the vaccines started rolling out in December, a light at the end of that long tunnel began to shine.

“I cannot overemphasize how much eagerness, excitement and frankly joy we are seeing in our health care providers clear across our system. This is the first, you know really big step towards getting past this in our minds, said Doctor David Basel, Avera’s Vice President of Clinical Quality said in December of 2020.

“I think we have a lot to look forward to in moving forward with getting everyone vaccinated and getting this covid out of the way, so we can move forward with our lives again,” Sanford RN Jen Pearson said in December of 2020.

But now, cases are on the rise due to the Delta variant.

“It seems to, you catch it easier, comes on a little more quickly and certainly is a little bit more mean than the previous one. So, you know, my partners and I have all been saying, I cannot believe we’re here again, but here we are.” Dr. Kimberlee McKay, clinical vice president of the Ob/Gyn Service Line at Avera Medical Group, said earlier this month.

That has led to fatigue among some health care workers and an increase in those seeking mental health help.

“You know, it’s very hard,” Thomas Otten, assistant vice-president with Avera Behavioral Health said. “There was a hope with vaccinations and we could reach kind of a herd immunity and get this thing beat. And now it feels, again, a little bit like there’s a little bit of a defeat in that we got to get back into being prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.”

“And now the numbers are going up, facilities are getting busier and it’s kind of just a frustration or disappointment that things aren’t managed and so out of that can come some increased anxiety, some increased irritability, you know, a little bit more short-tempered,” Karla Salem, integrated health therapist with Sanford Health, said.

In March of this year, Avera set up a health care worker hotline that allows them to call in at any point of the day just to have someone listen.

“We probably get anywhere from six to fifteen calls every week,” Otten said. “Which may not sound like a huge number, but it’s really important to those six or fifteen people. They’ve went through a lot of trauma and it’s just created some difficulties for them that, oftentimes, what they need is just someone to talk to on the phone.”

Karla Salem, an integrated health therapist with Sanford Health says there are ways health care workers, and anyone really, can stay mentally healthy while at home too.

“So having a little bit of a rest between work and home through, I mean, just even changing your clothes can do that for you,” Salem said. “Making sure that you’re taking care of your basic needs. Eating a little bit, making sure water is being intaked, making sure you’re exercising or having a little movement and then sleep. Sleep becomes very important when you’re already exhausted.”

If you do wake up in the middle of the night, try to numb your brain out. Try to think of nothing, have a picture of what nothing might look like.

Karla Salem, integrated health therapist with Sanford Health, said.

Stress can also come from constantly taking in new information. Both Otten and Salem say moderation is key.

Computers can’t even continually input information and be effective. So it’s kind of knowing your own limitations.

Karla Salem, integrated health therapist with Sanford Health, said.

The more you can stay off social media, probably the happier you’re going to be.

Thomas Otten, assistant vice-president with Avera Behavioral Health, said.

Taking care of yourself, no matter your profession.

The more you can keep yourself active doing things, the better off you are at keeping depression, anxiety and those kinds of things at bay.

Thomas Otten, assistant vice-president with Avera Behavioral Health, said.

“A person who feels content and happy and satisfied and forgiving, of both themselves and others, tend to then generate more, they just generate more humanity and more kindness to other people,” Salem said.

“I think health care workers have been heroes throughout this entire pandemic. I encourage health care workers to stay upbeat and positive. I think this is definitely something we will conquer, it’s just one day at a time,” Otten said.

To learn how to cope with stress, click here for tips from the CDC

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health or having suicidal thoughts, you can call the suicide prevention lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also call the South Dakota Helpline Center at 211.

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