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Health

In Joplin, Missouri, There's No End In Sight For COVID ICU Nurse: 'We Need Help Too'

Nurse Sarah Carter of Freeman Hospital West in Joplin.
Courtesy of Freeman Hospital West
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Nurse Sarah Carter of Freeman Hospital West in Joplin.

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a staggering 55% of frontline health care workers are reporting burnout — or mental and physical exhaustion from chronic workplace stress.

When critical care nurse Sarah Carter makes her 45-minute drive to work at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, she likes to spend the time mentally preparing herself for the day. Working in the COVID ICU requires it.

One COVID patient she was treating died on a Friday, and another died on the Monday she came back to work after the weekend.

For Carter, she chooses to keep hoping that the next day has to be better than the last.

“I’ve seen more death since October, than for my six years of nursing combined,” Carter said.

With the July spike in COVID cases in southwest Missouri, hospitals and nursing staff aren’t seeing the break they were hoping the vaccine would bring them.

“I know we all signed up to do this job for a reason, one way or the other we wanted to help,” Carter says. “And that’s still there but it’s…we need help, too.”

Carter regularly treats two COVID ICU patients on her 12-hour shifts. Treatment involves checking drip rates hourly, administering medications, assessing patients regularly. In emergencies, she’s preparing ventilators, administering chest compressions or placing patients on dialysis.

She’s on her feet for much of her day in the COVID ICU.

“I think my record was 10 miles in a day for two patients, it’s just constant,” Carter said.

Dave Dillon, spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association, said health care workers across Missouri have been worn down by the pandemic.

“They’re feeling very frustrated and, frankly, much of the work they’re doing is somewhat soul-crushing,” Dillon said.

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a staggering 55% of frontline health care workers are reporting burnout — or mental and physical exhaustion from chronic workplace stress.

Dillon says the solution to relieving that stress can come from vaccinations. And while vaccines have been widely available since March, some counties in southwest Missouri still have populations where only one in five people is fully vaccinated.

“It’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” Dillon said. “It’s not over unless we do something to change it, and if we keep going about it the same way we’re going it’s just going to get worse, and it’s just going to spread again. And this time… I don’t know.”

On her 45-minute commute home, Carter doesn’t talk to anybody. Sometimes she doesn’t listen to any music. She drives, digests what she’s just experienced and tries to distance herself from it so she can get some rest and try to enjoy the rest of her day.

And when she gets back in her car to make the long drive for her next shift in the COVID ICU, she’ll try to mentally prepare herself and get in a positive mindset once again — reminding herself the next day has to be better than the last.

Copyright 2021 KSMU. To see more, visit KSMU.

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