‘Slow burn’: C.O. health care workers hit hard by pandemic; some move off the frontlines

(Update: Adding video, comments from nurse, Oregon Nurses Association)

‘A year ago, every day, I went into work and … we thought we could catch something that’s going to kill us’

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — At the start of the pandemic, health care workers were honored and recognized for the working on the frontlines in an unprecedented situation.

Now, more than a year later, the constant stress outweighs the public praise.

Tiffany Simmons is a registered nurse at St. Charles Bend and a member of the Oregon Nurses Association.

“I think what I’ve seen is people wanting to just do something different,” Simmons said.

According to a Washington Post study, 3 in 10 health care workers have considered leaving the profession.

Simmons said she knows at least 10 people working on the frontlines who have switched to consulting, case management or educational positions.

Simmons says the stress she and her colleagues have faced this past year has been a “slow burn” that’s grown over time. 

She said even before the pandemic, there was the stress of working with sometimes aggressive or difficult patients.

Then, in the early months of the pandemic, there was the stark fear of dying while simply doing their jobs. 

“A year ago, every day, I went into work and my coworkers went into work, we thought we could catch something that’s going to kill us,” Simmons said. 

Now almost a year later, the pandemic is more common, but the stress continues.

“It’s challenging in regular times, and then you throw something that has the potential to be fatal on top of that, then working under those conditions — it’s a lot,” Simmons said.

Oregon Nurses Association Communications Manager Kevin Mealy said there are enough Oregon nurses in numbers, but it takes time to fill open positions.

“So we haven’t actually caught back up,” Mealy said. “There were people who have left the profession at the start of the pandemic who haven’t been able to get back at this point.”

Simmons still goes to work every day, but the thought of leaving has more than crossed her mind.

“I’ll be transparent with you,” she said. “I have absolutely considered doing something else and stepping away from the intense, day-to-day, 12-hour shift bed work.”

Simmons said the job is extremely stressful, but still rewarding enough to stay.

“Oh, gosh! It’s ultimately, I love what I do.” 

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