More than 19 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, our health care heroes are finding themselves at the epicenter of medical history — an experience that has been both fulfilling and exhausting. The pandemic has put a massive strain on the humans in health care, resulting in one in five health care workers leaving the field since COVID-19 began and another 30% considering a career change, intensifying the stress on those who are still hard at work on the frontlines.
Adding to the strain: Care capacity at Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems is even lower now than it was last winter, and a recent 17% surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations stressed the system as it stretched to place patients who need hospital-level care of all kinds. Unlike the capacity issues our hospital and health systems faced in 2020, hospital beds and PPE are not now in short supply, but an even more valuable commodity is: health care staff. The shortage is getting worse by the day, with 17,500 health care workers leaving their jobs nationwide just last month due to a variety of factors including burnout, retirement, and general job stress.
Working in health care is a calling — taken on by our friends, family members and neighbors in service of keeping our communities healthy. Minnesota’s frontline health care staff and leaders have been running an ultramarathon through this pandemic, with the same goal every day: to provide the best possible care to Minnesotans when they need it the most. Since March 2020, our nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants and other professionals have not turned away when patients suffering from COVID coughed or threw up. They leaned in — not only with suctioning equipment, sterile wipes and medications, but also with something much more therapeutic — soothing words and a warm touch.
Our health care workers need a morale boost, and there are real things every Minnesotan can do to help relieve the pressure.
When you arrive at your hospital, health system or clinic to receive care, remember that the faces who greet you are not the cause of your wait — these are the people who chose to show up today to care for you. Your care team is on the side of ensuring your health. Show these heroes how much we appreciate their dedication: Be kind, share a smile with them, and urge your legislators to get the hero pay that has already been allocated by the Legislature out of the political waiting room for our health and long-term care staff.
Remember the COVID-19 mitigation strategies, as stopping the spread will relieve the intense strain on our already-full hospitals. Follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, get vaccinated, get a booster when eligible, practice social distancing and stay home when you are sick.
At your next visit to a Minnesota hospital or health system clinic, please remember the current difficult circumstances under which you are visiting. Our health care teams are literally lifting up ICU and hospitalized patients so they can survive and heal — they deserve a lift from Minnesotans in return. Please treat the health care workers around you with an extra dose of respect and kindness.
Rahul Koranne, M.D., is CEO and president of the Minnesota Hospital Association.