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Bennington ER nurse reflects on burnout, vaccine hesitancy among health care workers

Nurses running with patient on hospital gurney to emergency ward
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Jodie Waldron, a nurse at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, says a steady stream of patients and a growing number of COVID-19 infections in younger people is exacerbating burnout among health care workers.

Health care workers in Vermont have faced even more stresses with the surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19 since this summer. Jodie Waldron, a nurse in the emergency department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, is among them. She says it's been distressing to see younger COVID-19 patients in the hospital, and it's contributing to the burnout many health care workers are feeling.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Jodie Waldron about the numbers of patients coming into the ER, and how she and other health care workers have been meeting the demand and coping with the stress of the pandemic. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jodie Waldron: Oh yes, the burnout is a very real feeling amongst many, many of my coworkers and myself, and my family. I have young children, and the pandemic delayed their education, delayed a lot of their development with sports and social activities.

More from VPR: She's a single mother of twins, and she works in mental health. Her pandemic workload has not been "balanced, workable or healthy."

Because mainly, for the last year, we really kept to ourselves, being such a high-risk set of people that kind of had to hide, essentially, from the community. So, it's been kind of a blessing, when we got vaccinated — when I got vaccinated — and then when Vermont opened up.

"Oh yes, the burnout is a very real feeling amongst many, many of my coworkers and myself, and my family."
- Jodie Waldron, ER nurse

Mitch Wertlieb: Let me ask you this, Jodie, because you're no doubt aware that some health care workers around the country object to mandatory vaccines. They don't want to get a shot themselves, but they work in hospital situations and other places in the health care field. Are their coworkers of yours who oppose vaccine mandates?

I believe there are. We have recently received the email about the mandate [for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center employees] taking effect Oct. 31. So, we've seen kind of a scurry of nurses, wondering if they should get vaccinated, dealing with the risks and benefits and the unknowns.

There’s just a lot of education going on — specifically between coworkers — about vaccination and the risk of, essentially, a whole new career, and what they're going to do. But yeah, there are a few nurses that have been a little worried about what's going to happen Oct. 31.

How do you feel about that, if you don't mind my asking? What's your personal feeling if a coworker of yours said, “You know what, I refuse to get vaccinated”?

You know, it's a very tricky subject to try to convince somebody otherwise. You just try to educate them and try to figure out what their reasoning is for not [getting a] vaccination. And try to figure out where they're getting this information from, and try to provide them with credible sources to get their information from, and just try to educate them.

Whether they believe or not, essentially, they could be have been a nurse for, you know, the last 20 years, and now they're going to give that up. It's just really disheartening to me. I don't want to see some of my coworkers go due to this, but some people feel really strongly in their beliefs.

"There’s just a lot of education going on — specifically between coworkers — about vaccination and the risk of, essentially, a whole new career, and what they're going to do."
- Jodie Waldron, ER nurse

Is there anything that you would want the public to know about health care workers and what they're going through right now?

Oh, yeah. I mean, it's tough every day, especially in the emergency department. To know, pending what's happening. To not know what's happening, to know what the winter is going to bring — just to know that we are very busy caring for sick patients, and it has not been easy.

More from VPR: 'I Don't Believe In An Afterlife': Why This TikTok-Famous Vermonter Cleans Graves

Now that families are allowed back in [to see family admitted to the hospital], I think it's easier for people to deal with. But it's just … it's been very hard lately, this past year.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

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