HARRISBURG, Pa. â€” Thereâ€™s frustration on the frontlines two years into the pandemic.
â€œPeople are so tired of it that they are ready to move on and they want to go back to life as normal,â€ Family First Health George Street Center Lead Physician Dr. Hetal Patel tells CBS 21 Newsâ€™ Samantha York.
â€œThen we see whatâ€™s going on in our hospitals,â€ UPMC Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. John D. Goldman continues.
â€œThis has been our life, our entire life, for two years,â€ WellSpan Health Critical Care Nurse Erin Hammond adds.
As the U.S. nears the two year anniversary of living with COVID-19, CBS 21 News visited healthcare systems throughout the region for a check-in.
â€œItâ€™s become very difficult when youâ€™re not seeing people get better anymore, despite everything youâ€™re doing,â€ Hammond explains, her voice breaking.
â€œItâ€™s making providers feel like theyâ€™re a failure,â€ Dr. Patel says.
Healthcare heroes say theyâ€™re fading.
â€œThere was a point at the start of this when we were healthcare heroes,â€ Dr. Goldman remarks.
â€œWe certainly donâ€™t feel like heroes,â€ Hammond continues.
â€œIâ€™m here to take care of them,â€ Dr. Patel says. â€œSo when Iâ€™m not able to, that hurt feeling is there.â€
Inside Penn State Healthâ€™s Emergency Department, Emergency Room Nurse Kristin Jens cares for patients battling COVID-19.
â€œSeeing as many sick people as many people die, Iâ€™ve seen more in the last two years I feel Iâ€™ve seen in my career as a nurse,â€ she says. â€œYou hear all the monitors, thereâ€™s always somebody very sick in the Department.â€
Some patients are fighting for their lives.
â€œI try to give them comfort that, you know, they can hold my hand still,â€ she adds.
â€œEspecially when theyâ€™re here alone,â€ Hammond continues. â€œWeâ€™re all they have.â€
In WellSpan Healthâ€™s Critical Care Unit, Erin Hammond fights a battle of her own as a Critical Care Nurse.
â€œThis [winter] was the worst part of the pandemic for us and thatâ€™s a shame because we now have the vaccines, we have treatments, we have knowledge to help keep the community safe, to keep ourselves safe,â€ she explains. â€œAnd, unfortunately, that doesnâ€™t seem to be working.â€
â€œYou go into the room with the pictures of the kids up, pictures of the family members up and if somebodyâ€™s on a ventilator, you know they have less than a 50% chance of leaving the hospital,â€ Dr. Goldman says.
â€œHaving to tell those families their mom, their dad, their brother, their sister, their child in some cases is not coming home, having to do that day after day, it gets really hard,â€ Hammond continues.
â€œThere are the cases that you remember that kind of weigh a little heavier on you once you get home,â€ Jens says.
The patients who do get out have long recoveries ahead.
â€œWhen they do come out of the hospital, theyâ€™re short of breath, they canâ€™t go back to work and theyâ€™re angry,â€ Dr. Patel says. â€œIf I didnâ€™t have it all in me, I could really be upset and be in tears that I did everything possible.â€
Family First Health caters to a medically-underserved population and faces increased demand for services.
â€œThereâ€™s still ongoing COVID care, thereâ€™s still ongoing catch up care, there is post-COVID care and then we are still going back to the preventive care,â€ Dr. Hetal Patel adds. She has half the staff needed to manage it all.
â€œThose who are working, are working double the effort to try to fill the void,â€ she explains.
Itâ€™s a healthcare crisis on every level.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of burnout, you know,â€ Geisinger Western Region Director of Hospital Medicine Dr. John Pagnotto says. â€œParticularly in the last six months, weâ€™ve just been at pretty much 100% capacity.â€
â€œA lot of people have decided they just canâ€™t do this,â€ Dr. Goldman explains. â€œWe have tremendous staffing issues.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been picking up the help just because we do have so many holes,â€ Jens adds.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 7% growth rate in the nursing industry from 2019 to 2029. That estimation puts it ahead of the national average of a 4% growth rate for all occupations.
However, the American Medical Association projects 1 in 5 doctors will likely leave the industry within two years, and reports show 1.2 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2030.
â€œThere arenâ€™t more providers in the pipeline,â€ Dr. Patel says. â€œSo we havenâ€™t been able to replace those providers.â€
â€œNot only do you have high volumes, a lot more patients than usual than we used do, but you have fewer people to treat those patients,â€ Dr. Goldman explains.
Burnouts are expediting retirements.
â€œPeople get frustrated thinking their wait times are because we donâ€™t want to see them but behind-the-scenes, we are working our butts off,â€ Jens says.
At UPMC Harrisburg, over 90% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
â€œThereâ€™s some aspect of this pandemic still going on being a choice,â€ Dr. Goldman says. He is working around the clock for care.
â€œHe comes in on a call, is called all night, heâ€™s doing notes all night,â€ his wife, Maureen Oâ€™Toole-Goldman, says. â€œHeâ€™s exhausted.â€
â€œIf we donâ€™t do it, who will?â€ he says.
As cases decline once again, healthcare professionals are keeping their guards up.
â€œAs soon as you get a breath, thereâ€™s another wave,â€ Hammond explains.
â€œWe take it one patient at a time, one day at a time,â€ Geisinger Emergency Physician and Assistant Medical Director of the Emergency Department Dr. David Rupprecht says. â€œThatâ€™s the best we can do.â€
Voices on the frontlines â€“ begging to be heard.
â€œEveryone has given a part of themselves to this pandemic, where itâ€™s going to take us a long way to recharge that part,â€ Dr. Patel says. â€œSlowly, weâ€™re going to get there.â€