Interview: Nurses battle burnout as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

Posted: August 27, 2021

The below interview/story was written and edited for WLEX-TV. 

Watch the interview here 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A shortage of nurses existed in the United States long before COVID-19 became a worldwide problem. However, the pandemic has only made the situation worse with more nurses experiencing burnout.

“It’s not just the burnout. It’s the moral distress that people are feeling constantly seeing patients who are getting worse, who are sicker, who are younger, who are dying at higher numbers. It’s very difficult to have to deal with that day in and day out,” said Dr. Lynn Kelso, a nurse in UK HealthCare’s medical intensive care unit.

Kelso said at one point, she worked six-day weeks to help the hospital keep up with a flood of COVID-19 patients.

The highest number of COVID-19 patients treated at UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital at one time is approximately 100, according to UK HealthCare. Right now, there are 87 patients with COVID-19 admitted for treatment.

The hospital has 139 intensive care unit beds. 48, or 35% of those beds are currently taken up by patients with COVID-19, according to the hospital.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated.

Kelso said many nurses are frustrated because some of the hospitalizations may have been prevented if the patients had been vaccinated.

“It's hard to continuously put out as much effort as nurses are having to put out and as much energy and a piece of themselves that they’re putting out every time they go into work to take care of these patients,” Kelso said. “And then to think some of these people are not doing the same amount to protect themselves.”

UK College of Nursing Dean Janie Heath said burnout is an industry problem they want to address before their students ever step foot inside a hospital.

There are currently about 1600 students enrolled in the College of Nursing, according to Heath.

“We have been on this journey for several years now to look at how we can build resiliency practices in our daily lives,” Heath said. “You’ve got to look at building in your schedule, your own time that’s just for your health and well-being, whether that’s emotional, physical or spiritual.”

Heath is encouraging nurses to make self-care a priority in the profession, especially as they face another wave of COVID-19 infections.

She added the community can make an impact in helping nurses struggling with stress and burnout, too.

“Let’s return to that outpour of thanks and appreciation,” she said. “Having each other’s back and supporting one another as a community can really make the difference.”