Nurses in Alabama Hospitals Feeling the Strain from COVID-19 Surge

Auburn School of Nursing graduate Anderson Lopez Castillo’s first job was in the Covid unit at UAB Hospital. Source: UAB

Eleven months ago, Anderson Lopez Castillo was a recent graduate of Auburn University’s School of Nursing. His first job was in the Covid unit at UAB Hospital.

“It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions, and emotionally draining,” Castillo said Thursday. “I am doing everything that I can for this patient, and the staff is doing everything they can, and we just can’t get ahead.”

He said the worst part is losing a patient and then walking into another patient’s room. “You have to think this patient may have a shot at getting out of here.”

Nurses in hospitals across Alabama, and particularly those in intensive care units, are feeling growing pressure as COVID-19 cases surge, complicated by the ease with which the delta variant spreads. With one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, Alabama has seen a dramatic increase in recent weeks in the number of new cases and the number of patients in hospitals.

UAB Chief Nursing Officer Terri Poe said she has been a nurse since 1986.

“I have never seen this type of stress,” she said, pointing out that ICUs have seen three surges of the virus: the initial one last spring, a second one at Christmas and now the surge with the delta variant.

UAB has a plan where specific hospital units are converted to ICUs, and one was added Wednesday night.

UAB reported Thursday that is it caring for 214 Covid patients, while hospitals across Alabama report that 2,845 beds are occupied by patients with the virus, an of 59 patients from Wednesday.

The patients include 41 pediatric cases.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported Thursday a total of 676,795 cases across the state since the pandemic began in March 2020. That is 11,142 more cases than the count when ADPH last reported three days ago. The department’s computer system had been down since Monday.

The case count has grown by an average of 3,714 a day over the last three days.

There were 103 deaths from Covid over those three days, bringing the state’s total over the course of the pandemic to 12,103.

UAB’s Anderson said nurses working in the Covid ICU units just keep going.

“There are some success stories where we have worked to get the reward we want … when patients get better and go home,” he said.

But the delta surge has been tough on nurses because the virus initially attacked the elderly, but “now it is wreaking havoc in every age group. I had one patient who was 16. Age does not play a factor in how sick these patients can get.”

He said it is difficult to see younger people, as well as some healthcare workers, getting the virus. “Then you see yourself. The patients could be us,” he said.

Patients who did not get vaccinated often “voice concerns and regrets early on in their ICU stay. But by the time I see them, they are no longer able to voice anything.”