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As Patient Numbers Surge, Hospitals Are Missing Staff To Help Them


Number of U.S. hospitals are running short of human resources, staff, just as patient loads surged this summer because of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

MELISSA WISE: We had four nurses who had to call in because they were ill themselves. And so while four doesn't sound like a big number, when you take four out of nine people who are supposed to be there to provide care, it has a tremendous impact.

SIMON: Melissa Wise is the nursing director of ICU and medicine at Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa, La. She usually manages 80 or so other nurses, but with some out sick and larger hospitals too overwhelmed to accept transfers, Melissa Wise pitched in to record vitals, give meds, check and keep charts on the rising number of patients.

WISE: We're not going to turn a patient away, but I think that if you ask any health care provider in this area, they will tell you that we are struggling to provide the quality of care that our patients in the United States typically receive.


WISE: A lot of days, it's just a matter of we can't see past today 'cause you're so overwhelmed with what the patients need in order to get to the best outcome that you can that sometimes you can only move minute to minute.


WISE: I will say that God has sustained us through this, and he does continue to give strength and energy that you're not quite sure you can muster. But one of the main things that I'm doing right now when I'm not at the bedside is actually constantly rounding on the units to support our staff.


WISE: You can look in their faces and see the defeat and the weariness that they're experiencing right now. What I have tried to do this entire year and a half that I feel like has been so critical is to make sure that their care and their family care is very important. And so when they've had events, be it a vacation or, you know, a couple of days off, whatever normalcy that they could bring to their life, we have done everything humanly possible to make sure they weren't scheduled for those shifts. And so I really think while we're all at some level of burnout, I believe the fact that we have been very attentive to making sure that they've had some time off has allowed them to endure this a little longer.

SIMON: And among those Melissa Wise has had to worry about is her 21-year-old daughter, a new nurse who's working at the hospital, and, in a twist of fate, her husband.

WISE: I had actually worked probably a 13- or 14-hour shift and got home around 9 o'clock one evening. And my husband and I went to bed at 10, and he made the comment that his foot and leg were going numb, and then it moved to his left arm and then to the left side of his face. So I immediately knew what that meant. And so we got into the car and came to the hospital, and it was determined that he did have a stroke. That diagnosis is an absolute automatic admission.

And at that point, of course, almost every patient in our ER and probably 90% of the patients in our inpatient beds are COVID-positive, and my husband was not. And so we were going to have to stay in the ER because there were no beds available in the hospital. So the physician and I had quite an extensive conversation, and we made the decision to just take him home, and I would stay home the following day to do all of the things that we would normally do in the hospital. And he has continued over the two weeks to recover. The outcome could've been much worse 'cause strokes do not always end well, as you know.


WISE: I do have a T-shirt on, and I'll tell you what it says. Our work is love made visible. And I see this over and over and over in our medical team that everything we're doing, love is shining through our actions. When we do have a bad moment or a bad day, we have to lift each other up in order to best get through this period.


SIMON: Melissa Wise - she's nursing director of ICU and medicine at Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.