An Emotional Toll: Coast hospital pushing through under weight of COVID, staffing shortages

Inside Singing River Health System's Pascagoula hospital, healthcare workers are stretched thin, leaving them physically and emotionally exhausted.
Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 7:14 AM CDT
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - Healthcare workers inside of Singing River Hospitals are seeing an overwhelming influx of patients as they, along with hospitals across the state, endure staffing shortages and a decreasing number of available beds.

Inside of the Intensive Care Unit at Singing River Health System’s Pascagoula hospital, nurses are mercifully caring for the sickest of COVID-19 patients. It’s a job that has taken a toll on every healthcare worker in the COVID units, leaving them physically and emotionally exhausted.

Holding back tears, ICU nurse Jessica Ginn talks about the emotional toll it has taken on...
Holding back tears, ICU nurse Jessica Ginn talks about the emotional toll it has taken on hospital staff as they care for COVID patients.(WLOX)

“I had a patient tell me one day that, ‘I know I’m going to die.’ I literally walked out of the room and just put my back to the wall and cried because what else do you do? Then, I had to go wipe my eyes, clear them, and go into my next person’s room,” said ICU nurse Jessica Ginn, her eyes filled with tears as she talked.

With the ICU full of COVID patients, staff in the Emergency Room are also now housing patients who test positive or who have symptoms of the virus.

As ICU beds fill up, the Emergency Room is having to help care for COVID-19 patients. Singing River Health System ER nurse, Ashley Triolo, says patients are having to wait for a bed to become available.

“I can’t abandon this. I can’t. I’ve wanted to but I haven’t,” said ER nurse Ashley Triolo. “It all adds up when you don’t have beds to put them in, and then it even more adds up when you don’t have the staff. Acuity, at this point, is priority. Whoever comes in, the sickest is going to be seen.”

Registered nurse Blakeney O'Brien talks about the physical toll staffing shortages have taken...
Registered nurse Blakeney O'Brien talks about the physical toll staffing shortages have taken on healthcare workers, many of whom are working 16-hour shifts.(WLOX)

Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has weighed on healthcare workers, leaving them exhausted but determined to still provide the best possible patient care. Staffing shortages have left nurses, CNAs, respiratory therapists, and others working 16-hour shifts to fill the demand left behind as medical professionals leave Mississippi for higher paying jobs in other states.

“We have a lot of people leaving because they see better opportunities other places,” said RN Blakeney O’Brien. “We need people. This is a good hospital. This is a place I want to stay.”

This week, the Gov. Tate Reeves announced that more than 1,000 healthcare workers would be deployed to hospitals across the state, including at Singing River Health System’s three hospitals. The 60-day contract will cost $10 million per week, but that money will be 100 percent refunded by the federal government through the Stafford Act.

While this is only a temporary fix, Singing River Health System CEO Lee Bond believes the American Rescue Plan could provide a long-term solution.

“We’ve got $1.8 billion coming into the state. If we could just allocate 25 percent of those federal funds, that’s enough for $20,000 for every nurse in the entire state of Mississippi to do a two-year contract. That’s a long term solution,” said Bond.

In all, 808 nurses, three certified registered nurse anesthetists, 22 nurse practitioners, 193 respiratory therapists, and 20 paramedics will be deployed to 61 hospitals in Mississippi. Of those, Singing River Health System will get 53 nurses and 18 respiratory therapists.

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