Nurses say morale has hit a pandemic low

More than a year and a half later, she feels vastly different after spending months fighting a surge fueled by the delta variant. Mead’s hospital has been overwhelmed by covid and non-covid patients — it’s a 62-bed emergency department, not counting beds in hallways, with more than 100 patients squeezing in almost every day, she said.

“We’re tired — emotionally, physically, mentally tired,” she said. “We’re all showing up, day after day. In the beginning, nurses were heroes. Today, we’re almost an afterthought.”

In interviews, nurses across the country describe plummeting morale during the latest pandemic surge, marked by utter exhaustion and growing workloads. Some thought the availability of coronavirus vaccines would alleviate the burden on hospitals. Instead, emergency rooms were swamped this summer and early fall, often filled with the young and unvaccinated. The crisis has exacerbated staffing problems that existed before the pandemic, leaving nurses shouldering increasing responsibilities as covid-19 patients fill their units. Some nurses are leaving hospital jobs for more lucrative travel nursing positions. Others are leaving the profession altogether.

Mead said nurses at her hospital may now care for five to seven patients at once, sometimes up to 11 on evening shifts. Before the pandemic, it was closer to three to five.