The COVID Shift: Nurse sees more death in 24 months than entire 12 previous years


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – It’s Tuesday at 9 am, there is a COVID-positive patient fighting to survive.

“I’m Brandon, I’ll be your nurse today,” said nurse Brandon Haley.

He’s one of the nurses on the frontlines at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in a war against the coronavirus.

“It’s something we walked into the profession seeing,” he said.

He’s only been on the job for a year.

“At one point, this entire floor which is 14 beds, was full of COVID patients,” said Haley.

The new graduate has lost count of the number of COVID patients he’s cared for.

“It takes a toll on you, for sure, because you just see the worst outcomes that can be preventable,” said Haley.

Haley has seen more people die than many nurses with more than a decade on the job.

“I’ve been here almost 14 years,” said UAMS Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Clinical Services Manager Elizabeth Sullivan. “I’ve seen more death in the last two years than I’ve seen the entire 12 years previous.”

On this shift, hours before, the ICU lost a COVID patient and is preparing to admit its next patient at any moment.

UAMS reports it has ten coronavirus patients which is significantly lower than the 78 it had several months ago.

It’s a revolving door with patients coming in but no one knows how the patient will leave.

“It is emotionally draining. It is devastating to try your absolute hardest and still have bad outcomes,” said Sullivan.

Upstairs, on the hospital’s 8th floor, a surgery recovery unit, nurse Whitney Hicks is preparing a room for a non-COVID patient.

“I think it represents a sign of hope,” she said.

The patient is in the middle of an operation, something he was unable to receive a few months ago.

“The patient that we are about to receive in this room now, today, and he’s been waiting on this procedure for quite some time,” said Hicks.

Several months ago the room had been used for coronavirus patients but hospitalizations have been on the decline, freeing up beds for other medical needs.

“A sign that there is a light at the end of this tunnel that we are able to care for all these patients that are not COVID positive that we haven’t been able to care for in the past,” she said.

Back to Haley, he’s checking on his COVID cases.

“Make sure their respiratory status is good,” he said.

Every breath is a reminder the battle is not over and with winter weeks away, Haley hopes COVID does not send Arkansas back into full combat.

“I would be scared to see how the cases rise,” he said.

UAMS, like hospitals across Arkansas, have had difficulty with staffing. Hospital leaders launched a new hiring starting bonus. There’s also a hotline for staff to call if they need someone to talk with.

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