‘A lot of really hard moments’: health care workers say more than eight months into pandemic

Published: Nov. 6, 2020 at 8:28 AM AKST|Updated: Nov. 6, 2020 at 7:45 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, health care workers are feeling worn out and stretched thin.

It’s getting difficult to keep going says Alaska Nurses Association Labor Council Chair Donna Phillips.

Phillips said that while health care professionals are on the front lines of the pandemic, they’re also members of the community. That means on top of their 12-hour shifts, they go home to figure out online classes or teach their elderly family members how Zoom works.

Phillips said while they are the ones who want everyone to wear masks the most, even the health care workers are tired of wearing them for hours on end. She said there are many times when these workers don’t get the chance to stop and drink a glass of water while they’re at work.

When patients come in with COVID-19, she said they’re scared. Then the health care workers are the only ones who are allowed to be there for them with visitation restrictions.

"So you’re trying to be the family for these folks and communicate with their family enough and when somebody newly comes into the unit or the ICU, their family is scared, so you’re trying to alleviate their fears,” Phillips said.

The isolation, on top of the fears going through patients' heads, is hard to watch Phillips said. That emotional stress goes back to the health care workers.

Health care workers are often faced with missing work because of the pandemic. Phillips said in many hospitals, if a worker is exposed to COVID-19 away from the hospital, they have to take days to get a test back out of paid time off. She said they only get special COVID-19 paid time off if they contract the virus at work.

As a 40-year nursing veteran, Phillips said this is what they signed up for. Still, it’s a heavy burden being in a hospital right now, and handling the pressure alone is difficult.

“Everyone has their own way of coping with this stuff,” she said, “and talking to your colleagues and your peers is probably the number one thing that we do.”

They don’t just have each other to lean on though. Manager of the Spiritual Care Department at Providence, Susan Halvor said they have chaplains in the hospital at all hours of the day again.

Halvor said they really try to remind health care workers of why they’re there in the first place.

“It can be exhausting, it can be frustrating, it can be sad," she said, "and sometimes we just have to push all that away so we can do our work. But there are still those moments that are life-giving to us and remind us why we do what we do. So one of the things that we’re trying to do is really encourage people to pay attention to those moments because that’s part of what will keep us going.”

At Providence, she said there’s also a special helpline that workers can call to talk about their struggles.

With no vaccine or relief in sight, Phillips reiterated the importance of the general public trying to help mitigate spread with masks and other measures.

“I think, personally, politicizing your right to walk around without a mask, I would just ask people to think about that,” Phillips said. “This, to me, is not a political issue. It’s a public health and safety issue.”

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