Death of Stanford nurse highlights mental struggles of heath care professionals during pandemic

Joshua Paredes keeps wondering if there was something that could have been done to save his close friend and roommate, Michael Odell.

The 27-year-old nurse at Stanford hospital died last week – investigators believe he likely took his own life after abruptly leaving in the middle of his shift.

Odell’s body was found floating in the waters in Fremont near the Dumbarton Bridge following a frenetic search by his co-workers and friends. 

"I just – I don’t understand how that happened," Paredes told KTVU, questioning whether Stanford had done enough to locate Odell the morning he disappeared before it was too late. "A nurse doesn’t just leave their patients unless they’re in danger. That’s the only reason that would happen – or they’re hurt somewhere."

Paredes – who’s a nurse at another hospital – said hospitals like Stanford need to be more aware of the burden on so many nurses as the coronavirus drags on. He said officials should be more aware if their employees are in crisis and ready to respond.

"We’re running on skeleton crews right now so nurses are exhausted. The new normal is for nurses to work 48 hours a week, which is what Michael was doing," he said.

In a statement to KTVU, Stanford Hospital officials said they were "deeply saddened" about Odell’s death.

"Upon being informed that Odell may be missing, we alerted authorities and worked with them to help confirm his whereabouts. Several of our nurses personally participated in the search efforts," the statement says.

Odell’s death may be an extreme case of a growing problem in health care

A recent poll among health care workers published in the journal of internal medicine found 74% percent of them had depression, 37% reported post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and 15% had suicidal thoughts.

"The pandemic has gone on so long that we are no longer able to tolerate the stressors of the position and we are in need of help and we are sounding the alarm," said David Hernandez, an Emergency Room nurse and Stanford Hospital. 

He didn’t personally know Odell but said his death struck a chord. He said too many nurses don’t do enough to take care of their own mental health and face troubles like depression, anxiety and exhaustion every day.

"You fear that if you open up that you’re having mental struggles that perhaps that will affect your professional career. That will affect your development that will affect your advancement," Hernandez said. 

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky.