Health professionals in the state feel like nurses were considered heroes at the beginning of the pandemic. That feeling has faded as they continue to battle through the latest surge in the pandemic.
At Stillwater Medical, an overflow tent was set up as the emergency room was packed with patients. They weren’t the only ones. Every hospital in the state was seeing a similar strain.
That prevented doctors from transferring patients who needed higher levels of care. In one instance, hospital officials tried to move a patient to more than a dozen different hospitals to no avail. The patient died in their care.
Stillwater Medical health leaders said in some instances, they would call many of hospitals in the state, sometimes even calling ones in other states like Arkansas or Texas, to find a bed for a patient. When those beds aren't found, sometimes that means a life is lost.
"Those situations happened across Oklahoma," said Dr. Woody Jenkins, an internal medicine physician with Stillwater Medical. "When we didn't have the ability to transfer patients from rural hospitals that didn't have the capability of doing procedures that needed to be done on those patients."
Jenkins said in one instance, they called dozens of hospitals to find a critical care bed for a patient. That effort eventually failed and tragically that patient died.
"It was very common that all across Oklahoma, we were transferring people all over the country," said Jenkins.
He said those situations are hitting nurses hard.
"A floor nurse took a leave of absence for a while because of COVID and the strain, and she was having flashbacks of people suffocating," said Jenkins.
Since the beginning of the year, Stillwater Medical has lost 50 nurses and their registered nurse turnover is more than 20%. He said once the pandemic is behind us, it will be a long road to recovery for health care workers.
"They have learned more than they wanted to about COVID," said Jenkins. "Ventilators and how to use a body bag."