'Compassion fatigue' setting in for Tampa Bay area healthcare workers

Doctors around the country are sharing their frustration as more unvaccinated people show up in emergency rooms with COVID-19 while a safe and effective vaccine is available.

One Alabama doctor recently posted a photo on social media of a sign saying he would no longer treat patients who didn’t get the shot starting in October. A California doctor shared an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times Tuesday expressing compassion fatigue, echoing how COVID is a terrible way to die when there’s a vaccine that can save your life.

Their feelings of frustration are not alone. Sarasota Memorial Hospital said what they’re seeing is preventable with a shot that has been proven to be safe and works against hospitalization and severe illness.

"So not taking this makes very little sense, but we are willing to listen to all your concerns. So if you are hesitant and you still have questions, please reach out," said Dr. Manuel Gordillo, the medical director of infection prevention and control at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

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This recent surge is pushing healthcare workers beyond what they experienced before, stretching resources that are already strained as doctors and nurses care for COVID and non-COVID-related emergencies at the same time.

"So when you know that there's something that can be done to prevent all of those complications, all of that heart shift and all of that suffering, it's just that that's where people start to get frustrated, not necessarily with an individual, but just because there's something that can be done," said Dr. Nishant Anand, the chief medical officer at BayCare Health System.

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Dr. Anand said the sense of frustration is human nature because healthcare workers are emotionally and physically drained after going nonstop for 18 months during the pandemic. But he said that does not mean providers aren’t doing everything they can to help.

"They're so compassionate. Every day I see acts of compassion happening holding someone's hand because a family member couldn't make it into town down in time for them. But they're just they're tired, exhausted with all the things that have been going on," said Anand.

Some people who refuse the shot for a variety of reasons are also the same people getting treated with experimental antibodies and other drugs that are FDA approved for emergency use just like the vaccine. BayCare’s CMO said people should understand the shot really helps.

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"I do think there's a contradiction, and I also think there's a lack of full understanding, and it's because there's so much misinformation out there. We've seen stories of people are coming in, they're in the ICU and they are very, very sick and they're asking for the vaccine. They think it's actually a treatment, and we all know that it's not," said Anand.

Doctors want people to understand the hard truths. Earlier this month, Lakeland Regional Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Timothy Regan wished luck to those who plan to remain unvaccinated.

"To those of you who are unvaccinated and unconvinced to get vaccinated, we wish you good luck in this journey. You will most likely get infected in the next two months," said Regan, about the current infection rate on August 5. "People are focusing more on one-off stories on social media or things their neighbors are telling them and paying less attention to the actual scientific data or the fact that there have been billions and billions and billions of doses administered to people and it’s happened very safely."

Doctors said no one can know how they will react to the virus, so they want people to have a fighting chance with a vaccine. 

"We’ve had a few people think, ‘Well you know I went 18 months without getting an infection and I had various exposures in the past and I didn’t get it and I’m not going to get it now,’’ said Dr. Joseph Seaman, a critical care pulmonologist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. "Well this current wave of illness is caused by a different variant that’s much more transmissible, so just because you dodged a bullet last year so to speak, doesn’t mean you’re going to continue to get by without getting sick."

Doctors said they need help from the community to get out of the pandemic. Anand said the best way to help healthcare workers and the strain on hospitals is to get the shot, wear a mask and social distance when you can. Doctors stressed if you have any questions about the vaccine, reach out to your medical provider for answers on accurate information.