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'These are not numbers, these are patients': SC healthcare workers battle mental exhaustion amid new surge

Nurses and doctors working across the state to care for COVID-19 patients say they're struggling mentally and physically.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Our frontline workers are mentally and physically drained. Nurses and doctors working across the state caring for COVID-19 patients say they're struggling mentally, fighting exhaustion.

Another surge is seeing hospital staff work tirelessly to care for the sickest patients. Those same health care workers who've helped COVID-19 patients for more than a year and a half are gearing up for another marathon.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Helmut Albrecht says healthcare workers are reaching their breaking points. "I look tired because I am tired," Albrecht told News 19. "Not only tired, but somewhat frustrated and some anxiety."

RELATED: Nearly 94,000 children diagnosed with COVID-19 last week as delta variant surges

"I've seen some of these patients more in the last couple weeks than I have seen my wife or my children," Dr. Albrecht said. "The burnout rates are high. There's a certain amount I as a human being can do, and it's certainly getting to the limit."

He says physicians do everything in their power to save lives, but sometimes it's not enough. "Young people dying. Pregnant women dying or losing their babies to COVID, which we didn't have … takes more of a toll on healthcare workers who spend their entire day … these are not numbers, these are patients that we care for and fight for, so if we lose them it's certainly a stressful situation."

Dr. Kelly Bouthillet, President of the South Carolina Nurses Association says some healthcare workers now have PTSD.

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"We can get very close to a family or very close to a patient. We're trying really hard to save their life and despite all the things that we have, and then that person dies, it's extremely exhausting," says Dr. Bouthillet.

"I have seen people stepping away. I see people retiring early. I see people new into the profession quitting early."

According to a recent study by the S.C. Nurses Association, 71% of nursing staff said they had feelings of burnout, anxiety or depression. 33% of staff said they've considered leaving the profession due to the COVID pandemic.

"I just spent 15 months on the front lines… and I just put myself my on sabbatical in June, because I couldn't do it anymore," says Dr. Bouthillet.

She says the hardest part is seeing the most vulnerable, our children, suffer.

"It is hard to see people get an illness and not come through it, especially children."

RELATED: Hospitals run low on nurses as they get swamped with COVID

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