Understaffed and overworked: Nurses fatigued at the onset of pandemic’s winter wave

The influx of COVID patients has some Bay Area hospitals and their staffs stretched thin. KTVU spoke to the head nurse of the COVID unit at San Jose’s Regional Medical Center about nursing fatigue.

Liz Thurstone, charge nurse at the unit, said it’s not a problem getting more ICU beds, but what they really need is more staff. Many nurses are working a lot of overtime, 12-hour and16-hour shifts to care for patients.

"I’m doing okay," said Thurstone. "I’m hanging in there. I’m a little fatigued."

The ICU unit at Regional Medical Center is capped. The hospital is treating upwards of 100 COVID-19 patients. A few weeks ago, that number was in the 70s.

"For the last 10 months, gosh we’ve gotten through so much maybe it’s going to come to an end," said Thurstone. "Now it’s become a surge upon a surge."

On Thursday, Santa Clara County reported 1,201 new coronavirus cases and five more deaths. ICU capacity is at 12%.

Regional Medical Center is now offering employee referral bonuses to hire more staff.

"It’s difficult to watch people suffer in loneliness," said Thurstone.

As staff try to comfort patients, Thurstone said she’s sacrificed by not seeing her elderly mother.

"It’s been hard not to see my mom," said Thurstone. "I think she’s my best friend."

On Thursday, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, O’Connor Hospital and Saint Louise Regional Hospital began administering 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to frontline workers.

"We’re ready to start putting this behind us," said Santa Clara Valley Medical Center nurse Josh Fuller. "It’s a lot worse the numbers are saying. We’re ready to get back to normal."

Stanford Hospital received its shipment and plans to vaccinate healthcare workers Friday morning.

Thurstone is among those who can't wait to get vaccinated. She is working Christmas. In spite of fatigue, nurses like her are helping patients for the long haul fight a relentless COVID battle.

"Nurses are quite a strong and resilient bunch of soldiers," said Thurstone.

The big concern among hospitals and staff is there may not be any relief in sight anytime soon. They say, the need for more staff could be even greater after Christmas if people don’t heed the warnings, stay vigilant and stay home.