UW Health frontline workers navigate two-year pandemic

UW Health frontline workers navigate two-year pandemic

MADISON, Wis. – He has been busy within the walls of the COVID-19 unit at UW Health for the past two years.

What do you want to know

  • Frontline workers wear new protective gear around 100 times a day
  • While things have slowed down a bit at UW Health Hospital, doctors aren’t sure COVID-19 will go away completely
  • Burnout is still present in many hospitals and is leading to a shortage of nurses across the country.

For healthcare workers, it has been tiring, but they continue to walk through the doors every day.

The sound of the monitors resounds in all the rooms. There is a constant buzz and doctors and nurses are moving in all directions to care for patients.

UW Health nurse Hilary Krieger constantly walks in and out of patient rooms in one of UW Health hospital’s COVID-19 units.

Krieger spent countless days donning protective gear and entering rooms to do whatever she could to care for patients. She said on average she puts on new protective gear about 100 times a day. It’s something that can be tiring not just for her, but for a lot of people on the front lines.

“It’s been difficult because people are discouraged, and people are here and stuck in rooms, and we’re the only ones they see,” Krieger said.

This is what an average day looks like for doctors, nurses and others who have been watching this virus since day one. While things have slowed down a bit at UW Health Hospital, doctors aren’t sure COVID-19 will go away completely.

“COVID-19 is not going away,” said UW Health Chief Quality Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof. “We will always have people in these walls with COVID-19 who are fighting for their lives. But, there will not be so many people that we cannot take care of these heart attack patients, this accident stroke or say no to the locals.”

These doctors and nurses who work in the COVID-19 units transform themselves into temporary family members of the patients they care for since they are the only ones who can visit. This has been one of the biggest challenges many face while in hospital.

“One of the hardest things has been isolating family friends, we’ve had restricted visitation policies for good reason, but it makes it difficult for people. Lots of regrets, lots of sick COVID-19 patients are scared,” said Dr. Bartho Caponi, UW Health Internal Medicine.

Doctors at UW Health have survived flare-ups and now have only a third of the number of cases they had in their last flare-up. However, burnout is still seen in many hospitals and is leading to nationwide nursing shortages.

“We see things that are hard to see. We’re working harder than we probably should be working and some people, it’s not their fault, I don’t blame them at all… it just gets too much,” Dr Pothof said.

But when the going gets tough, nurse Hilary Krieger said they know each other.

“What really got us through this is the great teamwork we have here at UW and just trying to keep going,” Krieger said.

His thoughts were echoed by Dr. Pothof.

“In the darkest times, there are also rays of light that show you’re part of a really cool thing in healthcare,” he said.

They show up every day, putting one foot in front of the other, entering the next patient’s room, and continuing to provide care throughout this pandemic.