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Virginia on the 'verge of patient care disaster' as vaccination rates remain low

FILE PHOTO - Virginia is on the verge of a patient care disaster, according to the Virginia Nurses Association. (Source: Carilion Clinic){p}{/p}
FILE PHOTO - Virginia is on the verge of a patient care disaster, according to the Virginia Nurses Association. (Source: Carilion Clinic)

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Virginia is on the verge of a patient care disaster, according to the Virginia Nurses Association.

They said the influx of unvaccinated patients due to the Delta variant surge, in combination with a growing shortage of nurses, is a recipe for disaster.

VNA gathered several nurses from across the state to talk about their emotional journeys working through a pandemic.

Aliese Harrison, a nurse at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abington, described how scared her patients are right now.

"Just Monday, I had a 40-something-year-old man, a big man, grip my hand and just hold my hand and squeeze it so hard it hurt," Harrison said. "He told me how afraid he was."

SEE ALSO: Beds at Lynchburg General scarce as COVID-19 pushes hospital to limit

Dexter McDowell is the COVID-19 Patient Care Director at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

"We become these patient's family members," McDowell explained. "I remember a certain time myself, I had to stay over for a patient because I did not want him to die alone."

The VNA is not blaming the nursing shortage on a vaccine mandate for staff at some hospitals, like Centra. They say many are choosing to leave the profession because of a combination of sheer exhaustion combined with pandemic-related mental trauma.

Family nurse practitioner Ashley Apple says it is hard not to lose hope.

SEE ALSO: Carilion Clinic sets up outdoor tent to maintain social distancing

"Imagine the worst day you have ever had at work, then add human suffering, death, personal risk and repeat it every day for 18 months," Apple said.

VNA said the major shortage of nurses in Virginia hospitals is causing a further strain on those who have not left.

These front-line workers, like Mesha Jones, have an impassioned plea to you: get vaccinated and wear a mask in public.

"We've been on the front-line of the pandemic for 18 months, and what we are asking the community to do right now is for you to be the front-line," Jones said. "For you to take care of us."

The VNA projects the nursing shortage will be worse in both numbers and duration than those of the past. They said it will change the face of healthcare for years to come.

"We are strategizing ways to address the nursing shortage, but it's going to take time," Apple said. "We need help from the public to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the extreme burdens on healthcare facilities and nurses."

Taking a look at the impact locally, Hannah Curtis, a spokesperson for Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, said it has more than 200 nursing opportunities for a variety of areas, including case management, physician offices, hospital medical and surgical units, and home health and hospice.

"That number is always in flux, and we’re allocating internal staffing resources in real-time," Curtis said. "As much as we’re talking about recruitment, retaining and supporting our talented and dedicated employees is our top priority."

Centra in Lynchburg has 297 open RN bedside nursing positions.

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