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Long-term care nurses battle high-stress conditions inside COVID units

Posted at 12:05 PM, Sep 11, 2020

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — Nurses inside COVID units within nursing home facilities in the Tulsa area tell 2 Works for You their job is a daily battle.

COVID nurses are required to wear an abundance of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure they don't potentially expose patients to coronavirus.

“I have an M-95 that I wear, and then I have a face shield that goes over that. I have to wear a hair net," Jessica Hunter, a charge nurse inside the COVID unit at Francisca Villa in Broken Arrow, OK said. " And an oversize jacket that I wear on top of that. It covers from my arms to like all the way down and it gets hot in those. It gets sweaty.”

Long-term care COVID nurses in full PPE

Hunter told 2 Works for You she runs up and down the hallways of the unit in all that gear since March for 60 hours a week.

"It's's exhausting," she said.

The emotional toll on COVID unit nurses weighs even more.

"I have people calling me crying every day," Kimberly Green, chief operating officer at Diakonos Group said. "It's just brutal and I wish that people would understand what we're going through."

“It’s like someone’s tearing away my heart," Hunter said. "Taking a part of my soul with them because we become like family."

Since visitation from family or friends is prohibited for residents with COVID their bedside nurses are their closest companions.

Hunter said the bond she shares with her patients makes it that much harder to watch them struggle.

"I literally have patients who want to give up that say that they can’t beat this and that they’re done and they don’t want to keep going forward anymore," Hunter said. "I tell them, 'No, we're going to fight this. We're going to move forward.'"

Hunter told 2 Works for You she has seen two of her patients lose the ultimate battle to COVID. Those final moments stick with her even after she passes through the pressure-sealed doors.

“I’ve cared for this man for that long and then he’s gone," Hunter said about one of her patients who died from COVID symptoms. "All of a sudden he’s just gone.”

She said the trauma forces her and fellow nurses to question whether they can continue, but Hunter always comes back to her patients. The stress is a burden she said she is willing to bear.

“I know that my patients need me and at the end of the day I need my patients," Hunter said.

Green, whose company oversees Franciscan Villas and other long-term care facilities across Oklahoma, said some of her nurses are leaving the industry altogether due to the stressful conditions under COVID care.

Green said Diakonos group offers video and in-person counseling sessions for its residents and nurses.

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