Minnesota nurses on pandemic: 'We’re losing the war'

Last year, Mary Turner, the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, likened the fight against COVID-19 as a war and nurses as the soldiers going to battle.  Nearly 20 months into the pandemic, her assessment remains grim.

"And I’m telling you, we’re losing the war," Turner said in a voice breaking with emotion. "The COVID-19 pandemic is worse than ever, ICU beds are full and patients are back in the hallways and waiting rooms."

Turner gathered a handful of nurses to meet reporters to make several pleas.  The first went out to hospitals and healthcare administrators and their corporate owners.  They say staffing issues must be addressed, saying they were short-staffed going into the pandemic and the stress has only made it worse.

"To be clear, COVID-19 may have exacerbated this situation, but the health system leaders created it," said Kelley Anaas, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis.

They say the tolls of COVID-care have pushed some nurses to retirement, prompted others to switch to other areas of healthcare, and led to newer nurses opting to change careers entirely.

"We’ve watched RNs who can no longer mentally, physically and emotionally tolerate the daily demands of short-staffing and unsafe delivery of care, simply to protect their license, they’ve also moved on," said Trisha Ochsner, a nurse at Children’s Minnesota.

Their second plea is to the public.  They urge people either to get vaccinated, since a majority of their patients are unvaccinated, or ask those who are opposed to vaccination to take other precautions to stop the spread.  They say that rooms are full, staff is stretched too thin, and it is as bad as they’ve experienced so far.

"I personally know more people coming down with COVID in the last 6 months than I didn’t in the first year and a half," said Abbott Northwestern nurse Lynnetta Muehlhauser. "I’m seeing it hit much closer to home. I know people being hospitalized, and I wasn’t seeing that a year and a half ago."