After a harrowing, stressful year manning the frontlines during the coronavirus pandemic, some 3 in 10 health care workers are considering leaving the field, according to a nationally representative survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post.
The Post-KFF poll stemmed from interviews with 2,298 U.S. adults, including 1,327 health care workers from February 11 through March 7, 2021. The teams collaborated in developing, analyzing and financing the survey.
While the majority of health care workers felt that the general public and patients they came into contact with showed respect for frontline workers, some 6 in 10 answered that Americans weren’t taking enough precautions to tamp down the spread of the virus.
When the coronavirus pandemic surged across the nation last fall, with rising infections and hospitalizations, medical administrators were scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals.
In this Dec. 8, 2020, file photo, a health care worker wears personal protective equipment as she speaks to a patient at a mobile testing location for COVID-19 in Auburn, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Nurses were being trained to provide care in fields where they had limited experience. Hospitals were scaling back services to ensure enough staff to handle critically ill patients. And health systems turned to short-term travel nurses to help fill the gaps.
Adding to the strain, experienced nurses are “burned out with this whole (pandemic)” and some are quitting, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, where several left just in the past month to work in hospice or home care or at outpatient clinics.
“And replacing them is not easy,” Fitzpatrick told the Associated Press.
Respondents to the KFF survey were not satisfied with the country’s pandemic response, either; about 7 in 10 answered that the U.S. did an “only fair/poor” job at “handling the COVID-19 pandemic.”
More than half felt burned out, and pandemic-related stress took a toll on mental health for an estimated 6 in 10 health care workers.
In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, respiratory therapist Babu Paramban talks on the phone next to hospital beds while taking a break in the COVID-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
The responses to the KFF survey were in line with what some medical professionals had previously expressed. In August, respiratory therapist Julie Sullivan detailed her pandemic experience to Fox News after she left her home state of Texas to help out the then-embattled NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the height of New York City’s coronavirus crisis last spring. While in the overwhelmed hospital and rushing to treat patients, Sullivan said there was rarely enough time to dig deeper into patients’ files and find names of their family members.
“The [number] of patients that were dying these horrible deaths and they were dying with strangers in the room. We didn’t know them, they didn’t know us,” she said at the time. “We would just tell them that their family loved them and they were praying for them, and they wanted them to get better but we didn’t really know if they had family that knew about them, honestly.”
At one point while speaking with Fox News, Sullivan broke down in tears remembering how she sang “You Are My Sunshine” at patients’ bedsides. She used to sing the song to her children, two of whom she hadn’t seen in person in months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.