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SLO County hospitals work through exhaustion, staff shortages amid Omicron surge

Tenet Health Central Coast

Two years into the pandemic, local hospital staff continue to grapple with exhaustion and staff shortage issues as the Omicron variant brings on new challenges.

“Everyone is tired, right? The community is tired," said Bridgette Bateman, the Interim Chief Nursing Officer for Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. "The public is tired.”

Bateman has been working in the healthcare field for 16 years, and she said she’s never seen anything like this.

“There have been things that have happened over time that you kind of look at and you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be hard.’ And then you come into something like this," Bateman said. "And you realize all of that was very easy.”

Bateman said there's a solemn feeling among staff at the hospital. With Omicron as contagious as it is, staff are getting sick, leaving other workers to fill the needed shifts.

Bateman said hospitals are also no exception to the nationwide staffing shortage affecting several industries.

“You lose staff to travel positions because they pay very well," Bateman said. "You have people who say, ‘I just can’t do this anymore,’ because of that level of stress.”

It’s a busy scene in the hospital, and with rapid tests hard to find, Bateman said too many people are resorting to the emergency room to find a test when they shouldn’t be.

“There’s a shortage of testing. Everybody is either requiring it to return to work, or to play sports, so we are finding people come into the emergency department for that," Bateman said. "It’s keeping some of the others who might not be able to get the care that they need because of that overload.”

Bateman urges people to only go to the emergency room if you have severe symptoms. If you aren’t sure, call the hospital line at (805) 546-7990 to discuss your concerns with a medical professional.

Bateman urges people to stay patient with hospital staff if you have to come in, since they are trying the best they can.

“I do think there is light at the end of the tunnel," Bateman said. "As tired as they may be, they are still coming in every day. They are doing the work that they can, and when you see that you just come in and do.”

Editor's note: Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center is owned by Tenet Health Central Coast, a KCBX underwriter.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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