‘We’re all tired’: Novant Health doctor speaks about COVID-19 burnout


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — As COVID-19 cases begin to plateau, Novant Health leaders say a peak could be nearing.  

Dr. David Priest, Novant Health’s chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer, said Tuesday caring for another wave of patients fighting the delta variant has taken a toll on doctors and nurses in the ICU. 

“They’re tired. I’m tired. We’re all tired,” he said. 

He explained the COVID death rate could increase from 5-6% even as cases go down because some patients remain in the hospital for several weeks.  

“Generally, our hospitals are not designed, the morgues aren’t designed to have that kind of volume,” Dr. Priest said. 

Cone Health and Novant Health have no plans for mobile morgues to return to Triad hospitals yet. 

“We certainly have contingency plans if we need to do that. We know healthcare systems have had to do that. We have not had to do that in our most recent surge,” Dr. Priest explained. 

The system has shifted staff as needed, bringing some employees back to bedsides to care for patients. 

“That’s a shock to the system you have to go back to the bedside working these long hours that you haven’t done in a number of years, so we’re all hands on deck, and we’ll get through it,” Dr. Priest said.

Cone Health reports 39 patients died from COVID-19 in August. In July, there were 18. In June, just four across the system. 

The fatality rate for August was just over 6.2%, much lower than the 12% mortality rate when cases peaked in December. 

A spokesperson explained hospitalizations in December were among an older demographic than patients admitted in late summer. 

“There’s frustration when patients come in who are still even hostile with the diagnosis of COVID when they have COVID. They say ‘I don’t have that’ or ‘you’re lying.” We occasionally get those things…we’ve had team members deal with verbal assault and sometimes worse,” Dr. Priest said. 

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