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'We feel defeated': Washington healthcare workers struggle amid rising COVID-19 cases

Healthcare workers say while they appreciate community support, underlying issues within the healthcare system can’t be avoided any longer.

TACOMA, Wash. — Hospitals across Washington state have been dealing with staff shortages, and healthcare unions say the demands of COVID-19 have brought nurses and other workers to the breaking point. Many have already walked away.

Shelly Pollock-Mead is tired.

As a registered nurse who works in St. Joseph Medical Center’s emergency department, Mead has watched her hospital fill up with patients suffering from COVID-19. She has put in long hours doing everything she can to help them.

“You stretch yourself thin. But you’ll see people waiting in our waiting room, three, six, seven hours,” Pollock-Mead said.

It’s not just about more patients, it’s fewer nurses.

“Our staffing crisis has been a problem before COVID, and then it’s just compounded with COVID,” Pollock-Mead said. “We became nurses because we want to care for patients, that’s what we want. We want to make your day better, we want to help you and make you feel better, and we don’t have enough people to do that right now.”

The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) says Washington is doing the best it can to deal with the shortages, but it also warns hospitals may be on their own.

“The state has stepped up its Emergency Volunteer Databank, and we’re relying on that to the extent that we can. Hospitals are pulling in volunteers from their communities,” said Taya Briley, Executive Vice President and registered nurse of WSHA. “We don’t think we’ll have much relief coming from the National Guard. We have made inquiries about that with the state. They feel those resources are being deployed elsewhere and will not be made available to us.”

Community members have tried to show their appreciation for what healthcare workers are doing. And while they’re grateful, workers say now is the time for real action.

“We need more people, we need more nurses, we need more techs, we need more dietary, we need more of everything, and it needs to have happened yesterday,” Pollock-Mead said. 

The Washington State Nursing Association released a statement that it’s critical that hospitals hire people to fill the staffing holes and properly pay the people that are left. Otherwise, hospitals won’t be able to care for the patients that come in, and the weight of COVID-19 could collapse Washington’s healthcare system.

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