Repercussions of a Pandemic
- November 26, 2021
Limited beds, workforce shortages and fear creating stress for local healthcare workers
A year ago during the holiday season Brookings Health cared for its highest number of COVID-19 patients to date. Thanks to the vaccine and advancements in treatments, Brookings Hospital hasn't housed as many critically ill COVID patients at one time this fall, but the effects of the pandemic are still at play.
"All across our region, beds and staff are short," said Jaclyn Rauen, Inpatient Care Director at Brookings Health System. This time last year Rauen was providing direct patient care. She was promoted in January and finds herself still working right alongside her team this fall, helping them care for the constant influx of patients.
“The pandemic fight isn’t over. Hospital systems, including us, are still treating very ill COVID patients, the majority of who are unvaccinated,” said Rauen. “On top of the steady stream of COVID patients, we’re also challenged by the fact that there are limited beds in nursing homes and larger tertiary hospitals. That makes it hard to get patients to the level of care they need. In turn it creates challenges with bed capacity and staffing in our own organization."
For these reasons Brookings Health is currently deploying the Bed Management Plan for COVID-19 Surge Capacity developed at the start of the pandemic. The plan calls for repurposing other areas of the hospital to accommodate patient demand, something the health system is on the verge of doing.
“The industry is congested with patients and it’s overwhelming the system, even at a local level,” said Rauen.
What also doesn't help is the healthcare workforce shortage happening industry wide. Earlier this year, South Dakota News Watch reported that more than 2,500 nurses dropped out of the state workforce. Need is also present in other healthcare occupations. According to South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organization’s career guide, 15 different healthcare occupations are projected to have a higher-than-average demand in South Dakota through 2022, including CNAs, radiologic technologists and EMTs and paramedics.
“Right now there’s the added stress on departments and staff are working considerable overtime,” said Paramedic Wendy Long. “Brookings Health System employees truly love their jobs and strive to give the best care they can to every patient and resident. But today’s environment is stretching our staff more than ever which is personally affecting our workforce.”
This fall Brookings Health employees started a new Peer Support Team which is led by Long and Same-Day Surgery Nurse Heather Coon, RN. The two recently attended further training for critical incident stress management (CISM) provided by the Warrior’s Rest Foundation and came away with tools to help their co-workers deal with the pressures from the pandemic and encourage them to stay in the workforce.
"I think a lot of people are considering leaving healthcare because they didn’t recognize the stressors they were under and it snuck up on them," said Coon. "They started to realize they couldn’t do this without some emotional and physical support. They started to think about their own well-being and how to re-energize their battery.”
"We have lost staff because they don’t want to go through another surge,” added Long. “It is very stressful and the fear of what’s possibly to come is emotionally and mentally draining.”
The old adage is healthcare is a calling. Healthcare workers tend to have a driving desire to help and care for patients and residents. But COVID-19 has upset that balance and the inability to perform their job is driving some healthcare professionals to rethink their occupation.
To help refill team members’ buckets and keep them true their calling, the initial program the Peer Support Team has implemented are “pulse checks”. Based on patient census and care provider to patient ratios, a department director can activate a pulse check when they are short staffed or have high volume. Members from the Peer Support Team follow-up with employees in that department and ask how they can help.
“We are seeing the physical relaxation and smiles for the simplest things we are providing in just 30 to 45 minutes,” said Coon. “Even just filling in briefly so co-workers can go take a much needed break. Giving a fellow staff member that half an hour can change the outlook on their day or week.”
Because of the small size of the Peer Support Team, they are currently focusing pulse checks on the Inpatient Care Unit and Emergency Department, areas within the hospital that see the highest number of COVID patients and those reaching capacity challenges. Eventually the team would like to extend pulse checks to the entire organization, including The Neighborhoods at Brookview nursing home, dietary and other ancillary clinical and administrative support departments.
“The pandemic has affected everyone,” said Long. “It’s not just the clinical staff. It’s trickled down to all departments. The Peer Support Team is really trying to prevent burnout and fill up people’s buckets again.”
Brookings Health System wants to implement additional mental health and wellness resources for staff such as onsite recharge rooms designed to address trauma, anxiety and stress healthcare workers face or access to meditation apps outside the workplace. To help fund these resources, Brookings Health System Foundation is focused on raising money for the cause on Nov. 30, the South Dakota Day of Giving.
"We are asking our community to have empathy and compassion for our healthcare workers," said Foundation Director Sara Schneider. "While as a society nothing will ever be enough to thank this generation of healthcare professionals for what they have selflessly sacrificed and endured, we still must honor and support them. Donations made to Brookings Health System Foundation during the Day of Giving will help our team members remain resilient and stay true to their calling."
Individuals interested in giving to the South Dakota Day of Giving campaign may do so by visiting brookingshealth.org/SDGives. Funds raised will make a direct impact on health system employees battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our healthcare team has fought a tough battle these last two years,” said Rauen. “They’ve worked long hours and extra shifts caring for critical patients. They’ve been pulled away from taking time for themselves and their families in order to selflessly give back to others. It’s taken a huge toll on our workforce. To say they are tired is an understatement. They need to know the community is still behind them.”
About Brookings Health System
Brookings Health System, located in Brookings, South Dakota, includes a 49-bed hospital, the 79-bed The Neighborhoods at Brookview nursing home, Brookhaven Estates senior living apartments, Yorkshire Eye Clinic & Optical, and medical clinics in Arlington, White and Volga, South Dakota. It is a non-profit, city-owned facility that offers the community a full range of inpatient, outpatient, emergency and extended care services. Brookings Hospital provides local access to doctors in Brookings and offers robotic da Vinci surgery and Mako robotic-arm assisted procedures, making it one of the premier rural community hospitals in South Dakota. For more information about the services offered at Brookings Health System, please call (605) 696-9000 or visit us on the Web at brookingshealth.org.