Health care workers face high stress, cite lack of preparedness

With the infection count among the general population in Miami-Dade County surpassing 5,400 and growing, health care workers are on the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak.

While processing sick or potentially infected patients, these folks sometimes find themselves feeling uncertain and unprepared. From emergency room patient intake to urgent care, these workers are in an increasingly stressful and ever-changing environment as the number of cases rises.

For people like L.P., a team coordinator in the ER at Baptist Health South Florida Hospital, going to work is a gamble. He faces a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) — including sophisticated N95 masks. L.P., who declined to give his full name, says the hospital has limited staff to two N95 masks per week, leaving many feeling ill-equipped.

“The experience has been overwhelming in the sense of having to navigate the ER and deal with patients with not enough PPE,” L.P. said. “We are all being exposed in the hospital to the virus with limited resources. It’s scary to come home to your family when the hospitals don’t even take care of you properly. Yes, we are on the frontlines, but so is my family.”

L.P. shared that he and coworkers expect many more cases to hit their location because it is in the heart of Kendall, a busy area with a population of more than 75,000. With dozens of confirmed COVID-19 infections and even more pending tests at Baptist Health South Florida Hospital so far, L.P. said tensions remain high as the staff can only expect more to come.

Urgent care centers that are typically walk-in clinics for minor illnesses and injuries are having to now prioritize patients only with the most severe symptoms. They send home many others who do not meet the criteria.

Ariela Pizzini is a patient representative at Baptist Health Urgent Care and is one of the many health care workers dealing with these issues. From combating misinformation on the virus to not knowing when the next delivery of PPE for culture collections will arrive, stress levels remain high.

“The trend I see in patients is being scared and overwhelmed with stress,” said Pizzini. “I have seen patients come in for a minor symptom and automatically want to get tested for the virus. The patients are so frustrated by this time that they will do anything to go inside and wash their hands. We’ve had patients yell at us for masks we can’t provide because we are limited with supplies.”

To mitigate the conflict of prioritizing patients, Baptist Health Center is promoting its app, Baptist Health Care On Demand. This app allows patients to communicate with a health care provider via video chat before the patient decides to leave home and congest the system. Other health care centers are doing the same.

“Every day I get people coming in with the most mild of symptoms swearing that they are infected with coronavirus,” said Alejandro Domínguez, an outpatient representative at Jackson South Medical Center. “It’s like people want to have it.”

Although Dominguez’s health care facility hasn’t seen a drastic shortage of necessary supplies like others, he said he has had to deal with some of the misinformation about the virus and treatment. “Many people think just because the test itself is free, that they don’t have to pay for the visit. Without insurance, the costs of triage in processing a patient could cost around $300.”

“The best way I see of flattening the infection percentage curve is for people to do their own research at home and only decide to leave it for necessary reasons,” Domínguez added. It’s a joint effort that starts with personal responsibility.”

Adrian Dominguez is a journalism major at FIU, specializing in visual storytelling through photography, videography and writing. Born and raised in Miami, Adrian took a great interest in the visual arts during high school, then decided his focus would be photojournalism and documentary work. He is set to graduate after the spring 2020 semester.