‘I’ve heard the term chaotic used’: Texas Nurses Association worried about staffing as hospitalizations rise

Coronavirus

FILE – In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Chrissie Burkhiser puts on personal protective equipment as she prepares to treat a COVID-19 patient in the in the emergency room at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo. The U.S. has seen a dramatic turnaround since December and January, when hospitals were teeming with patients after holiday gatherings and pandemic fatigue caused a surge in cases and deaths. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As COVID-19 hospitalizations in Travis County and across the state begin rising again — the Texas Nurses Association is worried local hospitals won’t have adequate staff to take care of another surge of patients.

In a news conference Friday where Austin-Travis County health leaders announced they would be moving to Stage 4 risk-based guidelines, Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes laid responsibility on you, members of the community, to ensure hospitals don’t hit a capacity that would once again put a strain on local health care workers.

“We are in a surge mode right now,” Dr. Walkes said Friday. “But it’s up to us to make sure that time doesn’t get here. We need to get vaccinated, and we need to wear masks.”

Dr. Walkes also said Austin-Travis County is preparing to ask for help from the state, though she did not go into detail on what metric would trigger that request.

In the meantime, the Texas Nurses Association is worried hospital staff are already spread thin.

“Nurses are very tired,” Cindy Zolnierek, a registered nurse and the CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said. “They have not fully recovered from the previous waves that we’ve seen of COVID. What I’m hearing from nurses is ‘oh no, not again.’ They’re wondering if they can do this a second time.”

Zolnierek says anecdotally they believe many nurses have retired, others are cutting back hours and some are choosing another career path altogether that doesn’t require such a high level of patient care.

“There is concern about whether nurses will be leaving the workplace,” she said.

“It’s up to us”

The best way to help hospital staff right now is to not end up in the hospital, Zolnierek says. In large part, that means getting vaccinated.

Health leaders in Austin-Travis County echoed that sentiment in their news announcement Friday. They say less than 10% of patients in hospitals right now are vaccinated. Zolnierek estimates it’s actually less than that.

“Our staff stays ready and willing and able to take care of patients that are sick, but it’s up to us,” Dr. Walkes said.

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