This week the editorial board is turning over its space to Mary Ponce of St. John’s Health, who describes the battle against COVID-19 taking place at the hospital.
The now fourth wave of COVID-19 has challenged many nurses and hospital staff beyond their expectations. They’re physically and mentally exhausted. Some have already reached their threshold and have left health care for these reasons. We’re at risk of others leaving as we speak. And, for many reasons, we know that these wonderful and caring nurses will be extremely difficult to replace.
The nurses themselves are in isolation gear most of their shifts, which is drying their mouth, nose and eyes. They’re seeing patients at their worst. They may sometimes see a glimmer of hope that someone is improving, yet seeing them deteriorate the following day. The patients we are seeing are getting younger and younger, in their 30s and 40s. Some are entirely healthy before having COVID.
We are witnessing consistently that unvaccinated patients are the sickest and end up in the ICU. Statistically, 86% of the patients admitted with COVID are unvaccinated, with 92% of those in the ICU being unvaccinated. A quarter of the unvaccinated hospital patients spend time in intensive care.
Many of the sickest patients beg for a break from breathing and want to be intubated. However this is not the answer. I have witnessed staff going home crying due to death and devastation that they are seeing on a daily basis, frustrated that this was avoidable if their patients had been vaccinated.
They continue to ask why aren’t more of the public getting vaccinated. How long are our health care workers going to have to deal with being at their breaking point? The nurses are now becoming the only person that the patients get to see; we would rather have their families at the bedside in their time of need. Yet we know that we have to protect visitors and staff by limiting visitors due to COVID. Being a lone support person for a patient in the ICU can be emotionally draining. Our team is psychologically and physically taxed. They’re frustrated that patients continue to refuse to be vaccinated despite vaccine efficacy.
Being a nurse is a tough job that we all signed up for, yet the ongoing pandemic challenges our commitment to health care. Those left are working harder with fewer resources and staff to support them.
The reason so many people have gone into health care is that we want to help people. During this trying time, we now need the people in our community to help us. I implore you and your loved ones to get vaccinated so that we can continue to serve you, our friends, our family, our neighbors, and others.
St. John’s Health Director of Critical Care Services Mary Ponce has worked at Jackson Hole’s community hospital since 2012. Her message is echoed by the editorial board of this newspaper: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Adam Meyer, Kevin Olson.