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'Nurses are having a really hard time coming to work': Spokane ER nurse discusses healthcare system strain

KREM 2’s Whitney Ward spoke with an emergency room nurse at Deaconess. She said they’re doing the best they can but the strain is real.

SPOKANE, Wash — Hospitals in Spokane and North Idaho have made it clear they are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as the delta variant spreads around the globe.

On Aug. 25, the Washington Hospital Association said a total of 1,100 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in just 30 days, which is equivalent of the capacity of two Harborview Medical Centers.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little activated hundreds of Idaho National Guard members and other personnel on Tuesday as the surge in COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm the state's hospitals.

Little warned that Idaho's entire healthcare system is "teetering on the brink" of implementing crisis standards of care, where beds, nurses, ventilators and other care could be earmarked for those most likely to survive.

KREM 2’s Whitney Ward spoke with an emergency room nurse at Deaconess. She said they’re doing the best they can but the strain is real and it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better.

Here’s a transcript of the interview:

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Whitney Ward: Over the last three to four months, it seems like things have just been extra stressful. The hospital, part of the problem is the hospitals are so full. So every day when I come in, we have 23 beds in the ER. And sometimes 23 beds are full of hospital admitted patients that are waiting to go upstairs. And sometimes it takes 24 hours to get them upstairs. So that adds a lot of extra stress. People have so many questions when they hear about all the hospitals being stressed. What does that mean for you working in the ER day in and day out?

Stacy Kitchens: So we're trying to get really creative here to see how we can still see the ER patients. Yeah.

Ward: What does that mean getting creative?

Kitchens: We've made 11 hallway beds pretty much anywhere, there's a wall and we can put a bed, we'll put a bed. Wow. And sometimes we see patients and chairs, we've created areas in the waiting room to see patients also trying to maintain the privacy, of course, but we just got to get creative. We got to find space to see everybody and take care of them.

Ward: Do you think people outside in the community who aren't part of healthcare, really understand how bad it is?

Kitchens: No. And I think what's really important what I wanted the community to know is It's not just our COVID patients like, yes, that's making things difficult.

Ward: We're still recovering from last year. The shutdowns. Is this the new norm?

Kitchens: I hope not. But I mean, it is going to be for a while. I mean, even when the COVID numbers go back down. I mean, we're canceling surgeries left and right to just try to control the flow and the amount of patients in the hospital. So we're going to be recovering from that for a long time.

Ward: So we've also heard about how dire it is in Idaho, North Idaho, specifically, how has that played a role? Are you guys getting patients from across the state line?

Kitchens: I think yes. I mean, we always have we still we just kind of share our community because we're so close. I know as one of the lead charge nurses in the emergency room, every single morning, I meet with every charge nurse of every floor, I meet with the OR (sic) team and we talk about how many rooms we have available, and the outlying rural hospitals that need to send people in. And that's also challenging, sometimes they don't have anywhere to go.

Ward: Are you worried about fall when kids are going back to school? Are you worried about colder weather when people are kind of going back inside?

Kitchens: Yeah, I mean, we're gonna see all the other things that have been around pneumonia, the flu, all those things are still going to be there. They haven't gone away. You know, obviously, with the masking that that cuts down on the transmission, just like with COVID. COVID is more contagious. So we're, when we're wearing the mask, we're seeing less of those But yeah, I mean, with everything getting back inside. I think that it's going to be hard.

Ward: Do you feel that vaccinations are kind of the ticket out of this situation. I mean, is that what it comes down to?

Kitchens: I think that the vaccination seems to be such a hot topic for everybody right now. Right? I mean, I'm vaccinated, I feel like I'm doing what I can to help take care of people. I'm going to take care of people no matter what.

Ward: Because once they come through your doors, I know it sounds like politics aside, right? I mean, you just want to take care of patients.

Kitchens: Oh, yeah, definitely. That's how it's always been. That's how we always believe every nurse feels that way. Doesn't matter what your health insurances are. If you have none, it doesn't matter what your political stances if you're vaccinated. We're here for you. We're going to take care of you no matter what.

Ward: Is there anything else that you want people to understand about just what it what it's really like, you know, we're out here right now it feels it's a beautiful day, it doesn't feel scary in any way. But once you go through those doors, it's pretty serious, isn't it? Right now?

Kitchens: It's very serious. I know, personally, a lot of the nurses are having a really hard time coming to work. I think one of our biggest challenges is knowing the care you want to provide, but not always being able to provide it because you're stretched so thin.