‘Burnt out’: Health officials at risk of losing staff as the second COVID-19 wave surges

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — Local health leaders are pleading to the unvaccinated community to get their shots as COVID-19 and the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread throughout the country.

Officials describe the “rollercoaster” of the past year as “mentally and physically draining” for their medical staff teams.

“I’m really trying to remind people about the people side of this. Our healthcare workers are on the front lines and that people are not supplies,” said Kadlec CEO Reza Kaleel.

Kaleel added that now there are “fewer folks” working, citing feelings of “déjà vu.”

“We have a lot taking needed vacations and we have many who are leaving healthcare now because of this next surge,” Kaleel said. “Folks are really not feeling excited about it and it’s not just here at Kadlec, it’s all throughout the healthcare industry.”

Dr. Kevin Pieper, the chief medical officer for Kadlec, added that between 95% to 99% of patients in the Intensive Care Unit are unvaccinated, “putting a strain on the number of ICU beds available.”

“More frequently, we are having to turn away transfers because we are full to the bed capacity we can staff,” Kaleel said.

One Kadlec ICU nurse posted an emotional message on Facebook that now has hundreds of shares:

“It only crowds out our ability to care for many, many other issues that have now been exacerbated over the last year and a half due to COVID as well, unfortunately,” Kaleel said.

Dr. Amy Person, a health officer with the Benton Franklin Health District, said this is avoidable if people get the vaccine.

“There is a path forward and it’s a safe and effective vaccine that’s available,” Dr. Person said. “COVID-19 vaccination is the same as vaccines for all other vaccine-preventable diseases and we encourage people to go where they’re comfortable to get vaccinated so that they can continue to protect themselves, their families, and the community.”

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