Endless marathon: Bozeman health care workers push through demands of COVID-19

Nurses layer themselves in protective gear. They’re cautious about what they touch before and after going into a patient’s room.

They shower before work so the don’t bring anything into the hospital. They shower after work so they don’t take anything home.

Days feel longer. They actually are, sometimes, with shifts lasting as long as 14 hours.

The shifts do eventually end. But then, outside the hospital, the virus remains a major force in nurses’ lives.

“You just feel like you can’t get a break,” said Rebecca Williamson, medical unit manager at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital. “Because no matter where you are, you are connected with all of this in some way or another.”

With cases surging again, workers at the Bozeman hospital are feeling the strain of the pandemic. Williamson manages 110 nurses and works with other department managers in the hospital. She said working there for the past nine months has been the biggest challenge of her life. She said the hospital has adequate capacity and great resources, but nurses and medical staff are emotionally and physically exhausted.

Hospitals in the state and across the country are facing similar issues as most areas are seeing a surge in virus cases greater than any spike since the pandemic began in March. As health officials continue to urge people to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands, health care workers continue to see the havoc caused by the illness every day at work.

This past week, Montana hit a record for the number of people hospitalized in the state because of the virus, said Greg Holzman, the state’s chief medical officer.

“The current stress on our public health and health care system right now is real,” Holzman said at a news conference on Thursday. “Health care workers are becoming stretched and public health departments cannot keep up with contact tracing.”

Hospital capacity in Gallatin County has hovered around 80% for the past week, according to reports from the state’s coronavirus task force. A handful of counties have either hit capacity at some point in the past week or had patients occupying more than 90% of beds.

Meanwhile, nurses at Bozeman’s hospital have had to quarantine because they were considered close contacts to someone outside of the hospital with the disease.

Dr. Mark Williams, the hospital’s chief nursing officer, said having health care workers exposed to the virus outside of the hospital is impacting the number of workers available to treat patients at the hospital.

“It’s extremely frustrating for our health care team members to witness the impact of COVID inside the hospital and then step out in the community and see what’s happening,” Williams said, “which often appears to be somewhat of a disregard for personal health and safety.”

Hospital officials this week…

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