Amid COVID crisis, Idaho health care workers grapple with burnout and misinformation

Posted at 12:52 PM, Oct 08, 2021

ICU director Dr. Meghan McInerny is normally the last person you want to meet at Idaho's Saint Alphonsus hospital's growing COVID ward.

"If you're sick enough with COVID to meet me, your chances of dying are pretty high," McInerny told CBS News' Jonathan Vigliotti.

She said that the hospital has had to convert day surgery to a fourth intensive care unit space. About 50% of patients who have been intubated in recent months have died.

"It did not have to be this way," McInerny said.

McInerney's colleague Dr. Carolyn McFarlane said misinformation and political division over vaccines have become an unexpected and deadly side effect of Idaho's COVID crisis.

"The divisiveness that we saw with politics. I'm seeing that same kind of trend in health care. And that alarms me, that I'm treating patients for their political views, whereas this virus does not care," McFarlane said.

In Idaho, it's not required to wear masks indoors and many don't.

"I thought this would be bringing America together to fight a common evil," McFarlane said.

As more sick residents flood hospitals some medical staffers are leaving. Saint Alphonsus has lost 50% of its entire staff since COVID began - mostly due to burnout.

Charge nurse Alicia Luciani has had enough. She told CBS News she was leaving the ward.

"What's going on in your mind right now?" Vigliotti asked.

"There's just so many of them. I put more people in body bags over the last two years than I have in the last nine. It's hard. And there's just a heaviness. an effort to preserve my own mental-emotional health was... Helped with the decision to do something a little different," Luciani said.

The exhausting and polarized climate has also led to troubling protest signs including one that called ER doctors murderers.

"That takes a real hit to morale. And so I feel for all of us who are trying to fight the fight against COVID and provide care. And that's what the greeting is," McFarlane said.

McInerny said she thinks twice about wearing her scrubs in public.

"Is it because I feel unsafe? I don't necessarily think so, but I'm certainly not going to put myself out there, I'm not going to put up the sign that I'm a health care worker," she said.