Frontline healthcare workers have been working relentlessly since the pandemic began, but now, as Wisconsin sees another virus surge, they’re worried about burnout.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Veronica Scott-Fulton said Friday. “It’s been devastating. It’s been unprecedented what we’ve experienced this year.”
Scott-Fulton is SSM Health’s Wisconsin Regional Chief Nursing Officer, and she’s worked in healthcare for 28 years.
She said as cases continue to climb nationally and Wisconsin confronts record hospitalizations, it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It just seems like it is ever present and it is ongoing and it’s never going to end,” she said.
The feeling of an interminable pandemic is only one of the challenges healthcare workers are facing.
Dr. Mariah Quinn, UW Health’s Chief Wellness Officer, said frontline workers are enduring the current virus surge before they’ve had a chance to recover from past surges.
“As this surge hit, we definitely came into it with the benefit of understanding a lot better how to keep people safe, but we also came into it a little bit tired already,” she said.
Scott-Fulton and Quinn both said their employers have developed programs to help employees cope with the increased level of stress.
At SSM Health, there are virtual support groups, daily reflections and virtual prayers. Scott-Fulton said they also focus on yoga, deep breathing and meditations.
“We really do believe those things are very cleansing to your mindset and to your soul to help you move forward through these eight-hour shifts and 12-hour shifts,” she said.
Quinn said UW Health has a peer support program, a stress management line employees can call and resiliency groups where employees can debrief particularly stressful experiences.
Scott-Fulton said she’s also found immense support in her coworkers.
“I have to really rely on my family that’s in the hospital,” she said. “We have each other because we understand what we’re going through because we’ve been going through this together.”
In addition to increased work demands, Scott-Fulton said she and her coworkers have been combating rumors and conspiracy theories about the severity of the pandemic.
“We are data scientists,” she said. “We don’t make up things. We don’t create drama where there is no drama. To be confronted with these theories, I find just to be really rude. I just really wish that people would realize that all we want to do is make you better.”
Quinn shared a similar sentiment.
“This is a real infection, and it’s really impacting people,” she said. “But we know that if we do basic things like physically distancing and wearing masks, we can keep people safe.”
“I want people to follow these very simple rules so we can control the spread,” Scott-Fulton said. “If they can do it for me and do it for you and do it for your mom and your aunt and your uncle and your cousin that is five states away, that would be very, very helpful.”