Not only that, the constant seeing of death, working long shifts, and shortages of medical staff – especially nurses – left Gardner exhausted.
“There were moments when I sat in my car and cried before I got to and from work. I … literally just sat there and cried because I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said.
Burnout and staff shortages are plaguing Arkansas’ healthcare system, in addition to the new Covid-19 Delta variant. UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said staff shortages had so affected morale that some employees left in the middle of their shifts. Others considered retiring early.
Patterson said UAMS currently has about 360 vacancies for healthcare providers, including 230 vacancies for nurses alone. UAMS is so desperate to find nursing staff that they’re willing to pay signature bonuses of up to $25,000 – but some medical staff say it’s not about money, it’s about their health and mental well-being, and no amount of money. can change that.
“Teams are weak. People are frustrated. People are very tired,” Patterson said. “We have a significant number of positions here because we don’t have enough nurses to come here and help us care for patients.”
Greg Thompson, executive director of Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (MEMS), which provides emergency and non-emergency ambulance service for central Arkansas, told CNN his business has seen a steady increase in calls “almost daily” over the past two months. The number of calls increased by 25-40 percent in some days,” he said.
“We normally make about 300, 400 calls a day, and our transports are normally about 200. We currently work about 260 or more days,” Thompson said.
Later, when ambulances arrive at the hospital, ambulances turn into temporary hospital rooms when there are not enough beds.
“There are times when we go into the ER and there’s just no bed, so we’ll have to wait for something to clear up by holding the patient against the wall in our bed so they can get them out,” he said. . “Normally we should be able to get out of the hospital in less than 30 minutes. But sometimes we see extremes of one hour to three hours.”
Arkansas had the nation’s third-highest number of daily cases per capita, with 64 new cases per 100,000 people per day for a week starting Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins data. That’s just below Louisiana at 93 and Florida at 74.
Hutchinson called a special session of the state legislature to change the law.
“Looking back, I wish this hadn’t become law,” Hutchinson said at a news conference Tuesday. “But this is the law and our only chance is to either change the law or have the courts say it has an unconstitutional basis.”
Speaking to CNN, UAMS healthcare professionals said that many of the patients they saw were not vaccinated and it was painful for them not to see people wearing masks in public.
UAMS emergency and intensive care unit physician Dr. “It’s getting crazy. I don’t know whether to be angry with the patient or the general public,” said Marc Phan. “I think we don’t just need to ignore that aspect of the business, we need to embrace them, try to include them and try to explain to them the importance of the vaccine and how it can change their lives.”
UAMS nurse Gardner said she often wonders why people aren’t vaccinated when treating patients. Still, she said she understood she needed to put her prejudices aside, “because at the end of the day, it’s your patient, it’s their choice.”
“We have a job to do as nurses,” she said. “We can’t let it dictate how we feel and how we treat them.”
CNN’s Martin Savidge and Maria Cartaya covered and wrote for Little Rock, and Amir Vera and Jason Hanna for Atlanta. Rebekah Riess of CNN contributed to this report.