'Continuous mass casualty situation': Hospital workers reach breaking point across Tampa Bay

Healthcare workers are exhausted, stretched thin, and working to save lives. But doctors and nurses are working harder than ever as COVID-19 patients pour into Florida’s hospitals in record numbers, 18 months after the pandemic began. 

Now, some of them are sharing their stories in hopes of encouraging the holdouts to get vaccinated.

Every day, doctors, nurses, and other staff at Tampa General Hospital go to work, put on PPE, and prepare for what could feel like a never-ending shift. 

"It just seems like the last few weeks we have been dealing with a continuous mass casualty situation. The situation just feels worse than it was at any other point," said Dr. David Wein, TGH chief of emergency medicine.

In the "COVID Chronicles 2.0" video from Tampa General Hospital, a worker is shown appearing tired after caring for COVID-19 patients. (TGH)

A video called "COVID Chronicles 2.0" documents the physical, mental, and emotional challenges these employees and their families are facing as they plead with the unvaccinated to get the shot.

"Our whole team is tired, struggling to make sure we have enough people there to care for all of the patients that are arriving," Dr. Wein said. 

Faced with 249 COVID admissions, 88 patients in the ICU -- the vast majority unvaccinated -- the staff gets real, telling stories that are only seen behind hospital doors. 

"All I could think was this is your last time seeing him and there’s a lot of complex emotions knowing he got sick from his unvaccinated family members and just the complexity of that and how hard it was for his wife to leave the room knowing it was the last time she was going to see him," Chaplain Resident Holly Bailey said.

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The staff at Sarasota Memorial Hospital also feels the strain.

"The staff being so resilient, you can also sense the exhaustion. How tired they are and it’s not only because of what happens here in the hospital, but we also all have families and someone to take care of at home," explained Manuel Gordillo, the medical director of Sarasota Memorial Hospital Infection Prevention & Control.

They've been in this fight for 18 months, day in and out, through the ups and the downs, but this time is different.

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Hospitals are more crowded. The patients are younger. And the job is harder, especially knowing it didn't have to be this way.

"Right now, all hospitals in Florida are under tremendous stress and we need to do everything we can to restore the ability of our healthcare system to operate more normally," Gordillo said. 

These healthcare workers say they hope their stories open the eyes of those who are not vaccinated and give them an understanding of what they, their patients and everyone’s families are going through.