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Health care workers speak about mental health in the wake of rising cases

Posted at 5:20 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 19:37:56-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It's no secret that health care workers during the height of the pandemic had difficulties with mental health while battling the virus.

For a while, it looked like the battle was over, but with multiple days breaking over 1,000 cases in Utah this week, health care workers are beginning to fight all over again.

“I didn’t think it would be like this,” said Lauren Mciver, a nurse in the intensive care unit at University of Utah Hospital. "We’re just very tired.”

As of Friday, the ICU in her hospital had reached 93 percent capacity — a far cry from the only two patients they had at the lowest point just over a month ago.

READ: Utah reports 1,211 new COVID cases Friday; 1 new death

“After the vaccine rolled out, we had a reprieve for a little while. We got down to two or three patients,” she said. "Memorial Day hit, and things are, like, full again.”

All of this adds up to more work and more stress for health care workers.

While mental health services are readily available to all these workers, that doesn't make it any easier to see some of the things that they see on a daily basis.

WATCH: Utah doctor on front lines of COVID-19 shares concerns as delta variant surges

Mciver candidly admits that she feels it too.

“My general anxiety, even when I am outside of work, is higher. You kind of find yourself isolating more because you can’t find people to relate to what you’re seeing at work every day,” she said. “You go out in the public and half the people you know aren’t vaccinated. It's just kind of demoralizing.”

So demoralizing, in fact, it has led many to leave the health care profession altogether.

Right now, Intermountain Healthcare has around 1,000 open positions and University of Utah Health has around 700.

This lack of workers has many health care professionals worried that if cases get much worse, there will not be an “army” to fight the battle.

READ: Utah leaders have no plans for another statewide mask mandate as COVID cases surge

“I can’t blame people for leaving,” Mciver said. "The conditions and ... the amount of death and human suffering we see every day is horrible.”

Surge capacity has yet to kick in for this surge, but it may be approaching.

“The day we have to overflow, that would be a really hard hit," Mciver said.

Vaccination rates are still lower than they should be in the state of Utah, and there is still a lot of vaccine hesitancy.

With a lot of mixed information and mixed signals out there about the vaccine itself, health care workers are hoping that the record gets set straight shortly.

“The sooner the better,” Mciver said. “I know there is a lot of misinformation spread out there, so I understand hesitancy. But talk to your healthcare provider or any one of us. We can maybe help soothe your unease.”

READ: U of U Health addresses COVID-19 myths, misconceptions

Utah is at the beginning of another spike with cases going up, which is going to mean another battle for health care workers who may not be as ready to fight but will continue to save as many lives as they can.

“I don’t know. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I haven’t had a lot of hopeful thoughts just looking at the way things are going. I am really worried for the fall with more people inside, and the delta variant is so transmittable,” Mciver said emotionally. “In a perfect world, yeah, we will have no patients in the ICU in six months, but I just don’t think that is how this is going to play out.”