For Nurses, Physical Health Not Only Concern During Crisis

Mike Moen | Public News Service
Experts say health care workers are experiencing "first-hand trauma" during the pandemic because they are at risk of becoming infected while seeing their colleagues get sick and, in some cases, die. Photo Credit: Unsplash

PAUL, Minn. — From devastation in hospitals to fears of infecting family members, health care workers are taking on added stress during the pandemic.

Some Minnesota nurses recently shared how the crisis is affecting their mental well-being. A New York City doctor’s suicide last month brought to light how overwhelmed health workers might feel right now.

While Minnesota might not see the same impact New York City has, registered nurse Sari Sanchez said that doesn’t mean the situation is easy to absorb. Sanchez said she broke down in tears after being informed she would do some COVID-19 shifts at her hospital in the Twin Cities. She said those tears were prompted by concern for her family.

“I’m not worried about myself,” Sanchez said. “But I have kids and I don’t want my kids to get sick.”

Sanchez shared her thoughts during a recent forumhosted by the nonprofit group Mental Health Minnesota. She said after the initial wave of emotions, it has become easier to manage the situation. But the panel noted furloughs and layoffs have created even more anxiety among staff members working for local providers.

Two of the nurses who participated said their employers have made resources available for staff to help cope with the crisis. Children’s Minnesota pediatric nurse Alethea Wiberg said connecting with colleagues online has been a big help.

“We have Facebook chat groups between just like my co-workers where we can just kind of all talk about what we’re going through,” Wiberg said.

But another participant, who works in a smaller setting, said she doesn’t have any outlets through her employer, and added the situation wasn’t always taken seriously by her superiors.

On a national level, researchers at Purdue University are trying to determine the extent of psychological trauma experienced by critical-care nurses during the pandemic.