Stretched to the max, nurses in need of reinforcements as La. breaks COVID-19 hospitalization record

Louisiana sees more people admitted with COVID-19 than at any other point during the pandemic.
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 4:21 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Hospitals in Louisiana are being overrun, that is the message from Governor Edwards and healthcare workers as the state sees more people admitted with COVID-19 than at any other point during the pandemic.

At Baton Rouge General a patient is admitted with COVID every 45 minutes. It is a rate that is pushing the hospital and its staff toward its breaking point. Over the weekend, BRG opened another COVID ICU to keep up with demand, the problem is the hospital does not have enough staff to man the beds.

“We have about 20% less nurses than we did the first and second go around and that does not help,” said VP and Chief Nursing Officer at BRG Monica Nijoka.

Nijoka said nurses elected to retire early, pursue other careers, or chase higher paying nursing gigs elsewhere. She cited the stress of the job over the last for the losses.

“Yesterday I dealt with five patients that died and their families,” she said. “It emotionally drains you.”

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She said she has seen more death over the last 19 months than she has in her entire career. It is a reality for nurses working in the COVID units.

“You just have to force yourself to be strong for the families because it’s very hard on them also,” said Bailey Grezaffi. “[It’s] Very hard on them because most of its unexpected. Most of these people wouldn’t be dying at the time they’re dying if it wasn’t for COVID.”

Grezaffi has only been a nurse for the last eight months. After graduating she was thrust into the front lines of the fight against the virus.

“It’s constantly hoping in and out of rooms, putting on PPE,” she said. “I mean we have patients on multiple different IV medications and the pumps are constantly going off with us having to refill these medications. It’s a lot.”

She is currently working her fourth 12 hour day in a row. She has two more to go before she gets a break.

“We got such a strong surge so fast,” she said. “For months we were down to two to five COVID patients at a time and then all of a sudden we’re coming into different units, opening different units, begging nurses to pick up shifts.”

On an average day in one of the COVID ICU’s at BRG, Grezaffi said she will rarely get a chance to even eat, let alone sit down.

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“We have 12 patients in here with only four nurses so we’re always having to run into other people’s rooms and help them out,” she said. “When we prone patients that takes a minimum of five people. It’s constant. Doesn’t stop.”

Nijoka said the hospital needs at least 40 additional nurses to help staff its hospital. Wednesday BRG is receiving reinforcements from the state. Those will help man the COVID ICU at its Mid-City campus.

For the nurses who are already on the unit like Grezaffi, she said despite being exhausted, she will keep coming back because she knows her patients are counting on her.

“We’re having to live in this everyday and it’s hard going home to people [who] think it’s a joke,” Grezaffi said.

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