Coronavirus

COVID Surge, Delayed Medical Visits, Nurse Fatigue Contribute to Stress at Clinics

As some Massachusetts hospitals report being overwhelmed, urgent care clinics in the state are also feeling the pinch

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The health care sector is at a critical state. Hospitals across Massachusetts are reaching near capacity while dealing with a national shortage of medical staff. NBC10 Boston found that urgent care clinics are also feeling the pinch.

A sign outside of the Mass General Brigham Urgent Care Clinic in Newton reads, in part, "We are experiencing very high patient volume … staff are working hard to accommodate everyone's needs."

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These issues, coupled with an increased demand for care, is stretching the industry thin.

"We can't afford to lose one nurse," warned Massachusetts Nursing Association President Katie Murphy, an ICU nurse.

Murphy has been working at the front lines of the pandemic, in what has been the toughest time in her 40-plus-year career.

"I hear this from people all over the nation," she said.

Fatigue is causing nurses to quit at a time when more people are seeking medical care. Patients who have put off seeing a doctor during the pandemic, or those who can't wait months to get an appointment with their primary physician, are turning to urgent care clinics for help, Murphy said.

"I really wondered where these patients were, and now, now they're feeling like they're sick enough, they have to go the emergency rooms, they have to go to urgent care, and so we're being asked to do more with less," she said.

Dasha Prakopchy, 21, had to wait longer than usual at Norwood Urgent Care. What would typically be a 20-minute visit turned into an hour and a half, she said.

"Wait times are way more increased, a lot more people, a lot more people that are sick that are coming in, and I noticed that their symptoms are very similar to mine, which is cold-like symptoms," said Prakopchy.

While COVID-19 remains a factor, it is the delayed care that experts say is putting the largest strain on their jobs.

For Murphy, it's an old problem that just got worse.

"Hospitals have skimped on staffing for years and years, and there really isn't any more staff around," said Murphy.

She says more needs to be done to help retain medical staff if hospitals and clinics have any hope of attending to the demand.

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