EVERETT, Wash. — Heidi said the pain and suffering at the Providence Everett emergency department isn't exclusive to the patients.
The nurses are feeling it, too.
"It's defeating showing up every day knowing these people need us and we can only do what we can," she said. "We've felt quite abandoned there."
Heidi is a nurse in Providence Everett's ER.
She asked us not to use her last name because she fears being blacklisted by hospitals across the country for speaking out about problems at Providence.
The hospital's ER is seeing up to 300 patients a day. Sometimes there are 10 patients for every one nurse with patients waiting in the lobby for up to 12 hours. At it's peak, there should be 33 nurses on duty in the ER, but the actual number is usually about half that, according to Heidi.
Hospital officials said Providence has lost 200 nurses this year alone. The situation is so serious, certain sections of the ER have had to close down.
"When I started to see people dying waiting for us to help them, I had to say something," said Heidi.
Heidi recently made a tearful plea to the Everett City Council, asking them to help keep nurses at Providence. She'd like to see the city mandate hazard pay or other financial incentives.
Though they did receive an "appreciation bonus," nurses at Providence Everett have never received hazard pay - even though they cared for the first reported case of coronavirus in America.
"We were ground zero and it hasn't stopped for two-and-a-half years," said Heidi. "I've personally struggled with anxiety, insomnia, depression. PTSD. You name it. Everything we've gone through, all the silent battles that the nurses have fought."
Hospitals across the state are operating at up to 130% capacity, according to the Washington State Hospital Association, while the number of nurses has shrunk by 6,000. The use of temporary nurses is up 84%.
"Things have felt different. There's no doubt about that," said Providence's Regional chief nursing officer, Kristy Carrington.
She said hospitals everywhere are struggling financially, so financial incentives to keep nurses are difficult.
The nursing shortage, combined with continuing COVID-19 cases has forced Providence to delay or cancel surgeries, costing it a significant revenue stream.
Another major factor is that Everett has more than 100 beds occupied by patients who no longer need to be at the hospital, but they can't transfer out, either because of guardianship issues or a lack of rehabilitation beds.
"That's about forty nurses a day that it takes to take care of them," said Carrington. "So, think about that. Forty nurses a day to take care of those patients that we could free up if we could move those patients out of the hospital. It would free up 100 beds as well."
Heidi wants Governor Inslee to meet with Providence nurses to come up with a plan to stop the exodus. She is circulating a petition.
Providence responded by saying they have "invest(ed) in their caregivers in recognition of their dedication." The hospital system implemented a $220 million workforce investment, including recognition bonuses and caregiver referral bonuses between $1,000 and $7,500.
A spokesperson also said they agreed on a new contract with represented nurses which includes market competitive rates as well as ratification bonuses. The hospital system also provided pandemic appreciation bonuses as well as extra shift bonuses, a spokesperson said.