Coronavirus: Springfield Regional Medical Center nurses adapt to staff shortage, operations manager says

ICU nurses face daily challenge as they care for more patients.

More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, registered nurse Jillian Purtee said she and her fellow nurses are adapting to fighting the virus amid a national nursing staff shortage.

The American Nurses Association sent a letter in September to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging the department to declare the nurse staffing shortage a “national crisis” and to take action to address the shortage.

The national shortage reverberates in Springfield, Purtee said. At the beginning of last year, ICU nurses at Springfield Regional Medical Center typically tended to two critical care patients; now, nurses are assigned three patients, Purtee said.

She told the News-Sun that the shortage of nurses presents a challenge to her team daily.

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“It’s created a fog in the emergency department,” she said. According to Purtee, a 30-bed unit at Springfield Regional Medical Center is shut down due to lack of nurses to staff it.

In September, Dr. Paul Buchanan -- chief clinical officer at Mercy Health: Springfield -- told the News-Sun that the hospital has witnessed a steady increase in COVID-19 patients over the last month, a higher demand for infusion therapies to treat the respiratory illness and a growing staffing shortage with all combining to create a strain on the hospital.

But the hospital’s nurses have adapted to the many changes the pandemic has produced, Purtee said.

Purtee, who is also operations manager of Springfield Regional Medical Center’s nurses, has worn many hats in her more than 17 years at Mercy Health. When she’s not managing nurses, she is helping care for patients in the facility’s intensive care unit, often tending to a patient recovering from COVID-19.

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As of Friday afternoon, a total of 18,606 cases of COVID-19 has been reported in Clark County, with 604 total hospitalizations and 334 deaths since the pandemic began. Buchanan told the News-Sun that roughly 80% of hospitalizations viewed nationally are occurring among unvaccinated individuals, a trend that is mirrored locally.

Buchanan told the News-Sun that COVID-19 has caused personal strain on medical staff at Springfield Regional Medical Center, as some have had to leave work due to catching the virus themselves after coming into contact with a patient.

In addition, non-COVID-19 patients requiring treatment have also been impacted by the rise in COVID hospitalizations, Buchanan said, with Springfield Regional Medical Center having a “congested” emergency room due to the influx of patients coming in with coronavirus symptoms.

Tending to a COVID patient is a task that requires some preparation, Purtee told the News-Sun. Nurses suit up in head-to-toe personal protective equipment for their safety and the safety of their patients, wearing surgical gowns, gloves, eye protection, N-95 masks or other face coverings, and even head coverings.

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Nurses, too, have taken on new responsibilities during the pandemic.

COVID patients at Springfield Regional Medical Center are not permitted to have visitors, but nurses work with patients and families to set up digital communication so patients in recovery can stay in touch with loved ones.

“At the start, we were handed iPads,” Purtee said. “We didn’t know what to do with them at first, but now we use them all the time to set up calls with families.”

Some COVID-19 patients , Purtee said, demonstrate more anxiety than others, with many at the start of the pandemic voicing fear after being infected with a virus that healthcare professionals knew little about. Loved ones of COVID-19 patients, too, have voiced concern, heightened in part by the fact they cannot have face-to-face interactions with medical staff.

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“They’ve had to put a lot of faith in the healthcare system, trusting us to care for the patient as a whole,” Purtee said.

Purtee voiced to the News-Sun that she and her team have received community support throughout the pandemic, and the daily struggles of COVID-19 have brought her and her team closer together.

“Our sense of family has really grown since the first wave,” she said. “And we’re still delivering great care to the community.”

By the Numbers:

3: The typical number of patients an ICU nurse at Springfield Regional Medical Center cares for during a shift

604: The total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Clark County since the pandemic’s start

80: The percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations among the unvaccinated

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