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COVID surges causing mental health crisis among healthcare workers, many may leave

The American Nurses Association estimates that 500,000 nurses alone will retire by 2022.

NEW ORLEANS — One of University Medical Center’s top doctors warned a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday that another crisis could slowly grow inside his hospital -- and others -- as the delta variant continues to spiral out of control in Louisiana.

“We’ve strained the human beings providing this care to a critical point,” said Dr. David Janz, UMC’s director of medical critical care services.

He told the bi-partisan Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that the fourth wave of COVID-19 surging in Louisiana has many healthcare providers near -- or at -- their breaking points.

“The past and current COVID-19 surges and future healthcare crises will likely be characterized by running out of healthcare workers rather than running out of ventilators,” he said.

The American Nurses Association estimates that 500,000 nurses alone will retire by 2022, with more jobs available in that industry than any other in the country.

Janz’s testimony came the same day as the Louisiana Department of Health announced 6,797 new COVID cases -- the largest single-day increase since March 2020.

There are now 1,390 people in the hospital in the state, an increase of 169 since Monday. That’s the largest single-day increase for hospitalizations since last March.

Janz said the reasons for a possible staffing crisis in the medical field are obvious.

“Over one-third of healthcare workers are experiencing anxiety or depression. As many as one-in-four are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he told the committee. “And symptoms of burnout are experienced by over half of critical-care physicians. This is the state of the workforce asked to return to the COVID-19 frontlines for a second, third and now fourth wave.”

Just as obvious, according to Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, is a way to avoid that from happening.

“If there’s a headline today or tomorrow on what this hearing’s about, I would suggest it’s this: If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said.