Over the past two weeks, Mills Memorial Hospital has been busier treating COVID-19 patients than any other time during the pandemic, leading to an erosion of staff morale as well as the hospital’s capacity to treat non-COVID patients.
Dr. Scott McCoach, an emergency physician who is deputy chief of staff and a manager of the infectious disease unit at Mills, said the hospital has been so busy some days that they have had to transfer patients to other hospitals.
In addition to the increased workload from the uptick in COVID-19 cases, the hospital is facing a staffing pinch as some staff members have had to call in sick.
“To be honest, we are struggling,” Dr. McCoach said in a Jan. 7 phone interview with The Terrace Standard. “As we get squeezed harder and harder with the cases coming in, some people are getting very burned out. We’re doing our best but it does start to weigh on the staff.”
“We are running on fumes for way too many of our shifts.”
Hospital staff feel frustrated as many of the COVID-19 patients they are treating seem to have not followed public health protocols, Dr. McCoach said.
“A lot of the cases are from people not doing their part at the societal level and they’re still partying, they’re still socializing, they’re still not taking the pandemic seriously in the way it needs to be, and unfortunately [hospital staff] are suffering because of that,” he said. “It really does threaten the stability of our health care system if COVID is allowed to run unchecked. I think people need to get that message a little bit clearer.”
“It’s not a hoax. It’s not influenza. It’s not just a flu season that will go away. It is something that needs to be taken seriously, and really the fate of our medical system remains in the public’s hands.”
However, Dr. McCoach acknowledged the difficulties that come with pandemic safety measures.
“We know people are tired. It’s not an easy thing to ask,” he said. “There are real harms from changing the way we socialize and interact but, fundamentally, this remains in [the public’s] hands.”
There have been COVID-19-related deaths at Mills Memorial Hospital, Dr. McCoach said.
“When you see people that got sick sometimes having done the right thing, doing their best to stay at home, doing their best to isolate … Seeing people like that get sick, that is very demoralizing,” he said.
Dr. McCoach said fewer than 20 hospital staff have received vaccines so far, but its arrival still provides some hope on the horizon for staff.
When asked what the public can do to help the situation and support front-line staff, beyond adhering to public health protocols, Dr. McCoach said simple gestures of gratitude would be immensely helpful.
“There is a very large team of people as well that are putting in a lot of extra hours, from pharmacy staff, physio staff, occupational therapy, the public health teams … the housekeeping staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty,” he said. “If you know somebody, send a little message just to say thank you. It is very, very difficult and demoralizing right now, and we need the extra thank-yous.”
“Especially the nurses — they have moved mountains to make sure the community remains safe.”