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'Just riding this wave': Charlotte nurse says colleagues are leaving health care due to burnout

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Carolinas are dropping, relieving some of the intense pressure that was on health care systems. But for many nurses, it's too late.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As we approach the two-year anniversary of COVID-19 care in the United States, hospitalizations nationwide and in the Carolinas are dropping, relieving some of the intense pressure on health care systems during the omicron surge. 

But new data shows nurses are exhausted. Diana Tejada-Pereda, an ICU nurse with Novant Health, said she sees it firsthand in the hospital with many of her colleagues leaving the industry. 

Through the peaks and valleys of every surge, front-line health care workers have been showing up for patients.

“Honestly, in this kind of role you just have to be resilient,” Tejada-Pereda said.

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She's an ICU nurse at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and has been caring for some of the sickest patients over the past two years. She says the day-to-day demand can take a mental toll. 

“I think I’ve had pretty good coping mechanisms," Tejada-Pereda said. "I have really good co-workers who are like my best friends. We've talked through our issues."

But the trauma and exhaustion have been too much for some. Nationwide, there’s a growing nurse shortage.

IntelyCare is a digital platform allowing nurses to pick up per diem shifts. Its research group conducted a study to measure burnout among nurses. It found 56% of nurses say they’re sacrificing their mental health for the job and 41% of nurses surveyed were considering leaving the job.

It’s happening within every health care system.

“We are burned out," she said. "We've had a lot of turnover just because people leaving to go travel nursing, or just leaving the bedside altogether. We're just riding this wave."

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One positive sign is Presbyterian is slowing down. Tejada-Pereda said it's been a relief to care for mostly non-COVID patients. 

"I'm just glad it's phasing out and this is our new normal and it is what it is," she said. 

Tejada-Pereda thinks money is a big factor driving nurses out, too. She says at one point, travel nurses were making four times more than what a nurse was making in a hospital system. She is hopeful the demand for travel nurses will slow, bringing more back to relieve some of the staffing shortages.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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