As hospitals nationwide struggle again due to a rise in hospitalizations due to the delta variant, reports of staff shortages increase. As unvaccinated individuals continue to fill hospitals and fight with health care professionals, exhaustion and lack of support have left health care workers struggling with their own problems. In Mississippi, as the state battles some of the highest numbers of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the nation, nurses are resigning due to extreme burnout. At least 2,000 Mississippi nurses have resigned since the beginning of the year, according to the Mississippi Hospital Association's Center for Quality & Workforce.
"It looks heroic," Nichole Atherton, a nurse who resigned from Singing River Ocean Springs Hospital, told CNN. "But that's not what it is. It's sweaty and hard and chaotic and bloody. And it's hard to live in this every day and then go home and live a normal life." When asked by CNN if the health care system is reaching a breaking point, another resigned nurse said: "I think we already broke."
The nurse shortage comes as the state once again set a new record Tuesday for COVID-19 cases in a single day. At a news conference on Tuesday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Mississippi set a new record for COVID-19 deaths in one day—over 100 deaths were reported. Additionally, of the 875 staffed ICU beds across the state, more than 93% are in use, and COVID-19 patients occupy more than 63% of those beds, data from the US Department of Health and Human Service found.
The increase comes within days of Mississippi surpassing its then highest average since the beginning of the pandemic, with more than 50 deaths. The surge continues with the state going through its highest peak of COVID-19 cases, Daily Kos reported. On Thursday, an order threatening fines for those who do not isolate after testing positive was passed to address the concern.
As nurses statewide continue to resign, the state government has called on contract health care workers from across the country. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that more than 1,000 contract health care workers are headed to the state to try and meet staffing demands in 50 of the state's hospitals.
"We have been working around the clock to secure additional medical personnel through both federal and private-sector sources to shore up the staffing shortage that our hospitals find themselves in. Getting boots on the ground this quickly is a step in the right direction," Reeves said during Tuesday’s news conference. Reeves noted that the federal government would reimburse the state for the $80 million that it will have to pay to the supplemental health care workers.
While some believe a lack of pay is the problem, nurses and other health care professionals have emphasized it is not. Despite this, some hospital systems urge the state to use part of its COVID-19 relief funds for retention bonuses.
"Do I think it's going to fix the problem? A lot of nurses have told me it's not about the money at this point. It's about, 'I need to recharge my battery,'" Dr. Randy Roth said, Chief Medical Officer of Singing River Health System.
Health care workers told CNN that as hospitals overcrowd, they must make quick and difficult decisions, including who to treat first. This rate of stress and burnout has increased as the COVID-19 crisis in the state worsens.
According to the Associated Press, last week, the University of Mississippi Medical Center opened two field hospitals in its parking garage to house COVID-19 patients for whom the hospital didn't have beds. Some hospitals have even begun canceling brain and heart surgeries due to a lack of ICU beds.