COVID care causing PTSD, anxiety for frontline workers in Amarillo hospitals

Coronavirus

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Hospital leaders at BSA and Northwest Texas Hospital said caring for COVID patients is causing PTSD for some frontline health care workers.

Dr. Brian Weis, the chief medical officer at Northwest Texas Healthcare System, said during Wednesday’s City of Amarillo COVID-19 briefing that he was worried about his nursing staff.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a number of them, particularly critical care nurses over the last couple of weeks and what I’m hearing is just the recurrent signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD,” said Dr. Weis.

He continued saying, “What they’re describing to me is, you know, general anxiety that hits them when they go to work, and it follows them at home, dreams they have about what they see in the ICU. A lot of them are having trouble sleeping, and then just a general change in their demeanor or outlook on life, and clearly that affects not only them but their families and their children.”

Dr. Michael Lamanteer, the chief medical officer at BSA Health System, said he has similar concerns, including, “Post-traumatic stress disorder, you know, concern about folks getting depressed, concerned about folks considering career changes, because of the risks of themselves and their families.”

Dr. Weis attributed the increase in PTSD and anxiety among hospital staff to four main causes, the first being that several nurses have been treating COVID patients for more than a year.

“What they’re seeing now in this surge is recurrent trauma,” Dr. Weis said. “This is surge number three or four, however you want to call it. But either way, most of our nurses that are here now, have seen the previous surges, so it’s just a recurrent injury.”

Secondly, he said nurses are taking care of much younger patients with the surge in Delta cases.

Dr. Weis said, “Over the last two months, we’ve seen a number of young individuals die from the virus and leave behind young children or young families, and that’s particularly devastating to a lot of our nurses.”

He also said most frontline workers are overworked.

Dr. Weis said a hospital, like any business, aims not to support resources that are going unused. So, hospitals typically succeed when they are around 85-90% capacity at all times.

“So, that’s why any surge like this quickly overwhelms our resources and those resources—our nurses, our beds, and our rooms, too,” Dr. Weis explained. “In the past, if a hospital got overwhelmed, you knew that the hospital next door can help you or the hospital down the street or in the next county could help you.”

Now, that’s not the case. He said they are seeing all neighboring hospitals in the same situation. That takes another toll on hospital staff.

“It’s devastating to these nurses, knowing that they cannot provide the care or the standard of care they normally do because we’re all stretched as thin as we can possibly be in regard to medical resources.”

Finally, Dr. Weis said he believes a critical reason nurses are dealing with PTSD and anxiety, is a lack of understanding.

“The vast majority of people have no idea what the nurses see in the ICU. What they do see is a lot of death and suffering and yet they go out in the public and they hear people say, ‘Oh, it can’t be that bad,’ or ‘It’s really not as serious as you’re saying,'” Dr. Weis added. “I think anytime that we minimize the effect on these nurses of what they’re seeing, we add insult to injury.”

He pleaded with the public saying, “My request for all of us is to be sensitive to what our frontline providers are going through because it is it is devastating every day, as they do their jobs.”

Dr. Lamanteer said most COVID patients in Amarillo hospitals are not vaccinated, which is directly contributing to the burden on staff.

“I think there becomes…unfortunately, a bit of an apathy for folks that are saying, ‘I don’t want to get vaccinated. I don’t believe it. I don’t think it will help,’ when there’s very good data to suggest and demonstrate that it does,” said Dr. Lamanteer, “And that I think frustrates people that are taking care of patients day in and day out.”

Dr. Lamanteer also said he is worried about the long-term impacts on staff, noting we have much fewer staff members in local hospitals than during the surge in the fall of 2020.

“We have had a large exodus of nurses, for different reasons, leave our community and either travel and work elsewhere, or not work in the nursing profession any longer or not be able to provide the hours and shifts that they provided during the pandemic,” said Dr. Lamanteer. “Because none of that’s sustainable, to ask individuals to work the number of hours on a long-term basis is not realistic, and that jeopardizes their personal health and their mentality.”

Dr. Weis echoed those concerns.

“If COVID disappeared tomorrow, it would take us years to replete the number of nurses that we have lost in the last 18 months,” said Dr. Weis.

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