Behind the mental health crisis in nursing: Testimonial from a California travel nurse

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Registered nurse Bryan Hofilena attaches a “COVID Patient” sticker on a body bag of a patient who died of coronavirus at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Last week’s tragic suicide of a nurse at a Kaiser hospital in Santa Clara, California, has highlighted the heavy emotional burdens which have been placed on health care workers for more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The growing mental health crisis among overworked and traumatized healthcare workers is reflected in the mass exodus of nurses from the profession.

Olivia, a California intensive care unit (ICU) travel nurse whose name has been changed to protect her identity, has spent the past two years of the pandemic in some of the most over-stressed locations across the state.

“I’ve seen pictures of me from a long time ago. I’m happy,” she said. “That person is no more.

“We’ve been under a lot of stress. I can’t think straight. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have anxiety. I can barely leave my house. I have an 8-year-old I have to care for.”

Olivia described how Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was rationalized at the beginning of the pandemic, “They [hospitals] locked the N95 masks. They would only give you one.”

“In the beginning, nurses were the only ones going into the COVID rooms with an iPad so the doctor can talk to them….They tried to tell us not to wear N95s at the beginning. They told us to wear bandanas. Some nurses had to wear the same N95 for a month working with COVID patients. They wouldn’t even let us bring our own equipment. I said, ‘Now people are dropping dead around me and you can’t give me an N95. If you don’t want to give me a mask, I’m going home. Our entire career, we were told to only wear an N95 once. You had a TB patient, you put it on once.’

“I felt like they were trying to kill us. We’re disposable. We don’t matter, we’re garbage. Nurses in Oakland had to use garbage bags for isolation gowns. They had to work on their own staff who died of COVID. I never got COVID and I’m very thankful for that. People around me got it and got sick.”

‘It’s not my job to die. You send firemen with oxygen and their gear. You send us nothing. It’s like you gave me a rock and a stick and sent me into war and expected me to be quiet.’

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