Maria Goodall is a vascular technologist at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Maria Goodall is a vascular technologist at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Nurses face burnout as hospital staffing shortage continues

‘It feels like there has been a mass exodus in the last two to three months.’

EVERETT — Michelle Roth, an emergency department nurse, is fed up with patients’ rude comments and having things thrown at her.

Roth, a nurse for nearly 20 years, has no plans to leave Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, but her job is only getting tougher.

Hospitals are struggling to hire and retain staff, as the omicron variant surges and the pandemic continues. Nurses are exhausted and traumatized, Roth said. They’ve lost coworkers to burnout or better-paying jobs as travel nurses. Some are temporarily quarantining because they caught COVID.

More than a dozen health care workers from hospitals and clinics in Snohomish County said the public’s anger has made their jobs more challenging. Nurses and medical assistants described patients that threw objects at them, flipped them off or hit them.

Kelley Phan, a charge nurse at Providence, said more than a dozen nurses in her department have quit over the past few months.

“It feels like there has been a mass exodus in the last two to three months,” Phan said. “As nurses, you become family with the people that you work with. It’s like seeing your family leave. But I get it. I don’t blame them.”

Many of the nurses Phan works with are new to the profession.

“I know what nursing can and should be,” Phan said. “But the newer nurses — not so much — this is all they know. And it’s a lot.”

Unions representing more than 71,000 of the state’s health care workers polled members in December. Nearly half said they were likely to leave health care in the next few years. More than 70% cited short staffing as a reason.

Michelle Roth, a registered nurse in the Providence Regional Medical Center Everett emergency department, is fed up with patients’ rude comments and having things thrown at her. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Michelle Roth, a registered nurse in the Providence Regional Medical Center Everett emergency department, is fed up with patients’ rude comments and having things thrown at her. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Washington National Guard arrived Friday morning in Everett, after the governor deployed them to help four emergency departments in the state. The governor also ordered hospitals to postpone non-urgent surgeries.

Lawmakers in the state House and Senate are considering legislation that would limit the number of patients assigned to a nurse. Hospitals would face hefty fines if they violated worker protections for medical staff or failed to meet the new standards.

“Obviously hospitals don’t like that,” said Sen. June Robinson, the Everett Democrat who sponsored SB 5751. “They don’t like being regulated in that way. So I think we, as a Legislature, have held off sort of in deference to the hospitals, hoping, assuming they would do the right thing. Years and years go on and it just gets worse and worse.”

Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer recently voiced opposition to the companion bill, HB 1868, at a House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee hearing.

“We agree that more needs to be done for the health care workforce, but we strongly disagree that this bill is the path,” Sauer said. “​​… It will deepen the staffing crisis in other areas of the health care system and, worst of all, it will undoubtedly lead our hospitals to delay or deny care to many who need it.”

Providence Northwest attributed its hospital’s staffing shortage to a large number of patients who need long-term care.

“We have well over 100 patients in our hospital who are medically ready for discharge, but have no safe and appropriate place in the community to be discharged to,” Providence spokesperson Casey Calamusa emailed The Herald. “For us in Northwest Washington, this is the primary driver of our staffing challenges.”

Maria Goodall, a vascular ultrasound technician at Providence, helped negotiate three of her union’s most recent contracts with Providence. Increasing and retaining staff is a concern at every negotiation, she said.

“It’s definitely a difficult process to get approval for increasing staff,” Goodall said. “My concern is that they don’t always evaluate the things they can’t see. They measure our productivity by what we do in a day, but I don’t think they measure what we didn’t do.”

Maria Goodall is a vascular technologist who helped negotiate three of the most recent contracts with Providence. She said increasing and retaining staff is a concern at every negotiation. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Maria Goodall is a vascular technologist who helped negotiate three of the most recent contracts with Providence. She said increasing and retaining staff is a concern at every negotiation. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Goodall said she used to wait about 15 minutes for the hospital’s Transport Team to move patients. Now, it’s more like 45 minutes to an hour. She waits up to two hours on bad days.

Lori Young, a float nurse, said Providence pages her about critical staffing levels every day. The hospital offers a bonus for working extra shifts, but she can only work so much overtime.

Suspending surgeries helped staffing levels, Young said. It freed up more hospital staff for floors that desperately needed them. Only some staff can take patients, though.

“A lot of the surgical nurses have only been surgical nurses,” Young said. “They don’t know how to do floor nursing.”

Nurses can technically decline patient assignments. If the nurse doesn’t feel qualified, another nurse takes the patient. However, that only means more work for the next person, float nurse Julie Bynum said.

“We all have way too many patients,” Bynum said. “It’s unsafe for everybody there, not just me. … Who is going to take care of that patient if I don’t?”

Roth said nurses feel “beaten down and forgotten,” but the environment isn’t specific to Providence. She hears similar sentiments from nurses across the country.

The public’s attitude toward health care workers has changed drastically, Roth said. They seemed appreciative in the beginning, but the tone shifted about halfway through.

“They almost were targeting us, like, ‘Oh, you’re part of the conspiracy,’” Roth said. “Now it seems like people are just angry.”

Roth said she often hears people attribute hospital staffing shortages to the vaccine requirement. That isn’t the case, she said. She knew one nurse who left because of it. Others qualified for exemptions.

“We don’t have less staff because of them not getting vaccinated,” Roth said. “We have less staff because so many people — probably mid-last year, end of last year — were just like, ‘I don’t even want to be a nurse anymore.’”

Claudia Yaw contributed to this story.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)
How to donate to the family of Ariel Garcia

Everett police believe the boy’s mother, Janet Garcia, stabbed him repeatedly and left his body in Pierce County.

A ribbon is cut during the Orange Line kick off event at the Lynnwood Transit Center on Saturday, March 30, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘A huge year for transit’: Swift Orange Line begins in Lynnwood

Elected officials, community members celebrate Snohomish County’s newest bus rapid transit line.

Bethany Teed, a certified peer counselor with Sunrise Services and experienced hairstylist, cuts the hair of Eli LeFevre during a resource fair at the Carnegie Resource Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Carnegie center is a one-stop shop for housing, work, health — and hope

The resource center in downtown Everett connects people to more than 50 social service programs.

Everett mall renderings from Brixton Capital. (Photo provided by the City of Everett)
Topgolf at the Everett Mall? Mayor’s hint still unconfirmed

After Cassie Franklin’s annual address, rumors circled about what “top” entertainment tenant could be landing at Everett Mall.

Foamy brown water, emanating a smell similar to sewage, runs along the property line of Lisa Jansson’s home after spilling off from the DTG Enterprises property on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. Jansson said the water in the small stream had been flowing clean and clear only a few weeks earlier. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Neighbors of Maltby recycling facility assert polluted runoff, noise

For years, the DTG facility has operated without proper permits. Residents feel a heavy burden as “watchdogs” holding the company accountable.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood man gets federal prison for selling fentanyl on dark web

In 2013, Christerfer Frick was sentenced to nine years for trafficking drugs. He began selling online upon his release in 2020.

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

Dan Templeman speaks during a forum lead by The Daily Herald on housing affordability at the Mukilteo Library on Thursday, April 11, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
At Herald forum, experts affirm Housing First model, despite downsides

At the Mukilteo Library, panelists discussed drug-contaminated housing and lengthy cleanup efforts in Snohomish County.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

A fire at a home near Alderwood Mall sent one neighbor and one firefighter to the hospital. (Photo provided by South County Fire)
Officials: Residents returned to burning Lynnwood home to rescue dogs

Five people and six dogs were displaced in the Thursday afternoon house fire, according to South County Fire.

Featuring a pink blush over a yellow background, WA 64 combines qualities of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink (aka Pink Lady) for a firm, crisp, sweet and tart bite. A naming contest for the new apple runs through May 5, 2024. (Photo provided by Washington State University)
Hey Honeycrisp, this new breed of apple needs a name

Enter a naming contest for WA 64, a hybrid apple with the same baby daddy as Cosmic Crisp.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Lynnwood woman, 83, killed in wrong-way crash following police pursuit

Deputies said they were chasing a man, 37, south on Highway 525 when he swerved into northbound lanes, killing an oncoming driver.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.