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'I think there is hope', Healthcare workers are feeling the exhaustion of COVID-19 a year later but one doctor is helping to overcome

“We know you probably have a lot of sadness inside, maybe some anger inside as well. It's okay to feel that. The more you feel the more human you are”

NEW ORLEANS — A year ago we were facing the unknown with a new virus.

A lot has changed in that year. Now people are going to mass vaccination sites.

But the year has taken an especially difficult toll on those in health care causing physician fatigue.

University Medical Center emergency room physician Dr. Jay Kaplan, will never forget this exact day last year.

“A year ago today I took care of my first COVID patient. Most anniversaries we rejoice. I'm not really sure I'm ready to rejoice to celebrate this one,” said Dr. Jay Kaplan, Medical Director of Care Transformation at LCMC and

LSUHSC Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Medicine.

In 40 years of practice, he's seen as many as two patients not pull through during one of his shifts. Last year that tripled to six.

“I'd like to think that in 40 years of practicing emergency medicine I'd seen it all, and the answer is I hadn't seen it all.”

It took a toll on colleagues.

“I've had a number of friends who have said, ‘Well now is just the time that I am going to retire. Now is the time that I am going to stop practicing.’”

It was emotionally trying for nurses who stepped up when the family was not allowed, as patients took their last breaths.

“A significant number of nurses who have said, ‘Enough. I need to take a break.’ And we hope they'll come back,” said Dr. Kaplan.

Dr. Kaplan stepped in as mental health healer for coworkers, giving frequent talks to heal the healers. There are "Be Well" virtual programs and special reminder cards handed out with inspirational messages. All of this is meant as an emotional debriefing. 

“We know you probably have a lot of sadness inside, maybe some anger inside as well. It's okay to feel that. The more you feel the more human you are,” he tells others.

The mass vaccination sites now open are helping to ease the stress.

“I think there is hope. The more we get vaccinated, the more we could potentially develop that herd immunity so that we could all relax a little bit,” said Dr. Kaplan, who cautioned we still need to protect ourselves from viral spread until more is known about the vaccines role in that.  

But even when it's over, he said health care workers won't be over the feelings they still have for the patients they've lost.

And Senator and Dr. Bill Cassidy just reintroduced bipartisan legislation to help prevent suicide, burnout, and mental health conditions among health care professionals.

RELATED: COVID-19 hospitalizations nearing all-time lows in Louisiana

RELATED: COVID-19 hospitalizations nearing all-time lows in Louisiana

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