Mayo Clinic health professionals discuss struggles on frontlines of pandemic

The exterior of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. (FOX 9)

As COVID-19 hospitalizations reach peak levels in Minnesota and the country, four medical professionals with the Mayo Clinic opened up about their personal struggles on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think that everyone is overwhelmed at this point," said Desirae Cogswell a respiratory therapist at Mayo Clinic.

"This is definitely the worst that it’s been for us," said Amy Spitzner, a critical care nurse at Mayo Clinic.

Throughout the nearly nine months of the pandemic, they have led patients on the road to recovery as well as endured some dark days.

"There’s a lot of things that we see that aren’t easy to deal with," said Cogswell.

This includes hearing from patients who believe COVID-19 is a hoax.

"It’s tough to hear, it really is when someone tells you what you’re doing isn’t actually happening," said Andrew Torres, a paramedic with Mayo Clinic Ambulance.

"It’s very frustrating because we see firsthand how sick these patients are getting from this virus," said Spitzner.

With hospital beds filling up, the intensive care unit in Rochester, where Spitzer works, has expanded. 

"The sickest you’ve ever seen in your life," she said. "They can be fine one day and the next day they’re on the ventilator."

Torres described the toll the pandemic can take on workers' mental health.

"Emergency medicine in general is a very stressful occupation," he said. "Unfortunately, that’s only exacerbated by COVID."
"The best way that we deal with our stress is honestly with our co-workers," said Spitzner. "We know what each other is going through, we support each other."

As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise, the health care workers made a public plea.

"It’s real," said Cogswell. "It’s here and we have a choice to make if we’re going to be part of the problem or part of the prevention."

"Really at this point in time just staying home and being aware of what you are doing and when you’re doing it is going to be really important for us to help break this," said Traci Kokke, an infectious disease nurse at the Mayo Clinic in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

In November, Mayo Clinic facilities across the Midwest saw staffing levels stretched thin due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. The Mayo says the situation has gotten better. Out of a total of 55,000 staff, a little more than 1,200 employees were out today.