Doctors on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in Arizona told Insider they’re experiencing burnout as healthcare workers shoulder the emotional and physical burden of the coronavirus outbreak in the state.
Arizona has become a hotspot for the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19, and health experts have warned that if cases continue to rise, the healthcare system could be overburdened.
Dr. Sandra Till, a pulmonologist and critical care intensivist at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, told Business Insider that cases have been rising for the past month.
The state closed down on April 1 and reopened by May 15. On Wednesday, the state reported a record of almost 4,900 new coronavirus cases over the past day, CNBC reported. On Thursday another 3,333 cases were recorded.
Arizona now has the worst per-capita outbreak in the US, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. The state has reported more than 101,000 total cases of the coronavirus and at least 1,810 deaths, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey ordered that operations of businesses like gyms and bars be paused for another 30 days.
Till said she and members of her team have worked extra shifts — for as many as 80 to 90 hours a week — to help treat coronavirus patients.
She said while there are reports that hospital and ICU beds may reach capacity in the near future, the real issue is finding enough well-trained staff to tend to those beds, noting that it’s not ideal to pull other specialties into treating COVID-19 patients as cities like New York did to combat their surge.
“The doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists are getting tired,” she said. “You know, we have been working overtime, we’ve been working harder, and now we’re being asked to work even more.”
Dr. Bradley Dreifuss, director of rural and global emergency medicine programs at the University of Arizona College of Medicine at Tucson, told Business Insider that healthcare providers working with coronavirus patients are being overwhelmed for a variety of reasons — not just the influx of patients.
With the nature of the disease, in addition to the extra time and care needed to care for COVID-19 patients, even the basics, like putting on and taking off PPE, take longer.
It usually takes a while before they can see or admit the next patient, or go back in to check in on a patient. It also takes longer to ensure rooms could be safely cleaned, which means it takes longer to allow another patient to go into the room.
On top of providing medical care, there’s also the emotional burden of caring for critically ill patients.
“I mean, you spend this intense time at the bedside with patients who are coming in, in respiratory distress, not knowing when they’ll be able to see their family again because they may or may not need to be intubated and put on a ventilator in the ICU,” Dreifuss said.
“So you’re there at the bedside, holding their hand, maybe being the last people they ever see if they’re intubated and sedated and then die from COVID in the ICU,” he continued. “And it’s emotionally exhausting.”