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Nevada Healthcare Workers Tell Their Side Of The Pandemic

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Bert Johnson/Nevada Public Radio
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Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, right, takes a knee at the White Coats For Black Lives Rally she helped organize In Reno in the spring of 2020.

Along with the pandemic, Nevada healthcare workers have also battled fear and stress for the last 18 months.

The recent resurgence of COVID-19, even after the availability of a vaccine, caused one member of the medical community to liken it to the movie “Groundhog Day,” where the same day keeps recurring.

“To be honest with you, it really feels like we are back to what we were dealing with before,” said Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, who joined a State of Nevada panel of medical professionals that discussed what the pandemic has been like.

“It is very difficult to see people fall ill from this virus when there is the possibility of preventing this,” said Curry-Winchell, medical director for St. Mary’s Urgent Care in Reno.

A Las Vegas emergency room nurse echoed that frustration, saying stress has taken a toll on her and her co-workers.

“Honestly speaking, it's been rough — I'm not gonna sugarcoat it,” said Registered Nurse Holly Peterson. “But through it all, nursing is my passion, and my No. 1 priority is to take care of my patients, and that's what I do each and every day that I go to work.”

Peterson said she has taken her colleagues aside and offered to cover for them if they look as if they need a break.

“We are a family,” she said. “The people that we work with, that's usually our No. 1 support system.”

Peterson credits Nevada State College, where she received her bachelor’s degree last year, with giving her improved coping tools.

“They had people available where we could just sit down and talk about what was going on in our lives,” said Peterson, who had worked as a licensed practical nurse for a decade before going back to school amid the pandemic.

A UNLV medical school professor said one way to reduce internal stress is to be understanding, and appreciate that whomever you’re dealing with is probably stressed as well.

“As humans, we all have these similar problems and conditions,” said Assistant Professor Anne Weisman, director of Wellness and Integrative Medicine at the Kerkorian School of Medicine.

For those facing stress, she said deep, measured breathing  “is the quickest, easiest way to change our physiology — and it’s free.”

It is also the top piece of advice Weisman offered in an essay last year on “ Tips for Staying Well in the Time of Coronavirus."

Weisman said one legacy of the pandemic might be a greater understanding of stress and more of a willingness to talk about it, particularly in the medical community.

“It's really opened up a wide variety of interests and lots of good questions these days,” she said.

Robin Reedy, executive director of the Nevada chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said increasing numbers of medical professionals are turning to her organization for assistance.

“We have seen more health care providers looking for help,” she said, “and I think that's perfectly natural” with the summer rise in COVID cases and predictions for more dark days ahead.

Healthcare workers are “going to be dealing with this trauma, and they're going to start getting burned out,” she said.

Reedy said medical professionals should consider seeking help if they chronically feel irritable, angry, or anxious or experience compassion fatigue.

The alliance provides a list of mental health resources for healthcare workers on its website.

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, medical director, St. Mary's Urgent Care in Reno; Anne Weisman, assistant professor and director of Wellness and Integrative Medicine, UNLV’s Kerkorian School of Medicine; Robin Reedy, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Nevada Chapter; Holly Peterson, registered nurse

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.