New surge taking toll on nurses inside Florida hospital’s COVID-19 unit

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — More than 200 patients with COVID-19 are currently being treated at Tampa General Hospital. Staff members say the surge they’re dealing with now is much worse than before and the nonstop work is taking a toll.

“We are constantly working our hardest and fullest every shift, and we are having sicker patients than ever,” nurse Paige Pepaj said.

Pepaj works inside the cardiothoracic intensive care unit with COVID patients. It’s some of the most critical care that can be given and requires constant monitoring by the nursing staff.

“These patients are in respiratory distress, and it’s not just for a week or two, we’re talking about weeks and months,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t making it through, so it’s been taking a toll on us for sure.”

The new surge of patients Tampa General is treating comes just after the staff thought they were seeing an end to the pandemic.

“We kind of saw a light at the end of the tunnel in July. We started seeing that decrease in the numbers and then quickly, we see the spike that we are dealing with right now,” nursing supervisor Ty Vreiter said.

Nia Joseph, another nurse dealing directly with patients, says the current wave is a lot harder with patients who are younger and sicker. Joseph says she often sees patients rapidly decline after being admitted.

“Sometimes, they’ll be on room air or one to two liters of oxygen, and by the end of your shift, they’re going to require ICU,” Joseph said.

She said that can be emotionally difficult for the nursing staff.

“It’s very emotionally taxing and physically hard as well, just to make sure that you are all gowned up because you can’t just run into the room like you used to,” she explained. “You can see them declining and see them getting sicker, so you have that bond with your patient and then it’s unfortunate that they become a lot more sick.”

A total of 325 patients have died from COVID-19 at Tampa General as of Sept. 1. More than 4,000 have recovered.

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