Health care workers in Arkansas are starting to walk off the job as instances of short staffing and burnout continue to increase in the state.
Cam Patterson, chancellor of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, told CNN that several staff members have left their post in the middle of a shifts and some are considering retiring early as they struggle to cope with the demands that the coronavirus and its variants are placing on them.
"Teams are stretched thin. People are frustrated. People are very tired," Patterson said, noting that morale among health care workers has been low. "We are down a significant number of positions here because we just don't have enough nurses that we can recruit to come here and help us to take care of patients."
According to Patterson, nearly 360 health care provider positions are currently vacant within UAMS. About 230 of those vacancies are for nurses, CNN reported.
Patterson said that UAMS has offered to pay signing bonuses of up to $25,000, but even that has had little effect on nurses who say that their mental health and wellbeing has taken a toll.
"I've had moments where I've sat in my car and cried before I came to work," Takela Gardner, a registered nurse at a UAMS facility in Little Rock, told CNN. "I've ... literally just sat there and cried because I didn't know what I was coming into."
Gardner told the news outlet that the coronavirus pandemic began just eight months into her nursing career, forcing her to learn the role quickly.
Greg Thompson, executive director for Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services, reiterated the stress that the virus has put on health care workers, noting that calls for ambulance services have seen an "almost daily" surge within the last two months.
"Normally we'll run about 300, 400 calls a day, and our transports are normally about 200. We're running about 260 or more a day right now," Thompson told CNN, before adding that sometimes hospitals will not have enough beds to accommodate the new patients.
"There's times when we get into the ER and there's just not a bed, so we'll just have to hold the patient on our bed against the wall, waiting on something to clear up so that they can get them off," he said. "Normally we should be able to get out of the hospital in less than 30 minutes. But sometimes we're seeing some extremes of an hour to three hours."