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- One hospital worker says the COVID-19, flu, and RSV outbreak reminded them of the early pandemic.
- The worker says their hospital had to turn away ambulances and use the ER triage to hold patients.
- Even though things are difficult, the worker says they have a strong team and love their job.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a 40-year-old patient-care technician in the Southeastern US. They’ve asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, but Insider has verified their identity and employment with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
At the start of the pandemic, I was looking for a night job so I could stay home with my children during the day. One of my friends, who is a nurse, suggested I apply to be a patient-care technician (PCT), since there was a high demand for the position. I’ve been working as a PCT for more than two years now.
PCTs, also known as nurse techs, assist nurses with patient care. We do jobs like checking vitals and bathing patients. When I started in 2020 it was really hard on hospitals and hospital workers, but the recent COVID-19, flu, and RSV outbreak seems just as bad.
The COVID-19, flu, and RSV outbreak has some of the same problems as the beginning of the pandemic
Flu patients are increasing daily at a higher rate than last flu season and we don’t have room for them. At first, we were getting patients of all ages, but now we have a spike in elderly patients.
During the beginning of the outbreak, we used the emergency-room triage area as a holding room for patients staying longer than 24 hours. The ER triage is usually where we hold patients to quickly assess if their need is life-threatening or if they can wait longer to be treated. We also refused ambulances and sent them to other hospitals because we had no more room for new patients. There has been another flu and RSV surge at my hospital, since people gathered during Christmas, and we still don’t have enough room.
Since my hospital is located in a low-income area, we tend to have more unhoused people come to stay long term during the winter. Many of these patients are elderly and have dementia or Alzheimer’s, so assisted-living facilities aren’t willing to take them in. They stay in our hospital for weeks and sometimes return because of the cold. Our hospital is trying to figure out how to deal with these types of patients, which is adding to our workload.
Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, we’re accepting all types of patients. We no longer have a separate floor for COVID-19 patients because there aren’t any extra rooms available. The COVID-19, flu, and RSV patients are put on the same floor as the cancer, tuberculosis, and shingles patients. However, there’s a separation of staff and equipment.
A cancer patient and COVID-19 patient won’t get the same nurse, but PCTs like me work with all the patients. We have to take care of everyone because of the staff shortage.
How we treated COVID-19 patients before is how we’re treating flu and RSV patients now — with more precautions
We know how to handle COVID-19 patients better now so we aren’t as confused about the protocols with the new outbreak. People aren’t as concerned about COVID-19 — they’re more afraid of the flu and RSV.
Flu and RSV patients also share some of the same treatments and equipments as COVID-19 patients. They all often need ventilator and respiratory therapy in addition to vitral-monitering equipment. We don’t put immunocompromised patients next to flu or RSV patients, but we do put them next to the COVID-19 patients. Even the patients’ families are fine with this because most of the patients that come in are vaccinated or have already had COVID-19 at some point. Some even think they’re immune to it because they’re vaccinated.
Each illness has a different sanitizing regulation, so it’s becoming more difficult to know what the correct protocols are for sanitizing the rooms when the patient has a combination of multiple illnesses. The staff is confused about which protocols to follow and how to combine them. Also, the environmental-services (EVS) workers in charge of sanitizing the rooms keep quitting, so every week we have a new person who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
The nurses I work with will see that I’m overwhelmed and ask me to take a break while they handle my workload
When COVID-19 hit, there was plenty of staff to handle the surge of patients, but a few months after, many hospital workers quit their jobs. At the beginning of the tripledemic, we were shortstaffed.
Before, my hospital had two PCTs, four nurses, and one charge nurse for 20 patients. Then we fell to one PCT, three nurses, and one charge nurse for 20 patients. It was overwhelming when three of us had to do a job that requires five or six PCTs.
It’s very hard on our bodies, and we kept telling management that the staff was struggling. Luckily, our staff is very supportive of each other and we help each other out. Also, the hospital has finally begun hiring more people, so it’s getting better.
The hospital put the nurses that didn’t quit during the pandemic into management positions. These nurses are in charge of the new staff and are being asked how to improve things. Many things such as protocols, staffing shortages, PPE availability, and attitudes changed after the pandemic started, so it’s taking time for management to correct the whole system, but they’re getting there.
When I leave work after my 12-hour shift, I sit in my car and feel my whole body hurting badly. This work is very hard on your body, but I continue to work two to three days a week.
Even though things are difficult right now, my favorite part of the job is when patients thank you and tell you that you did an awesome job. It’s nice to hear that. Also my hospital is building a new wing to increase the number of rooms available. I think this will make us more prepared for the next outbreak.
We have a good team. They’re really nice and look out for me when I’m overwhelmed. That’s the best part of the job. It makes me want to go to work.