WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Some local nurses are speaking out about working during the pandemic after one Wichita hospital is seeing an increase in ICU deaths.

“It was my first week of working here that we turned the unit into a COVID unit,” said Ascension Via Christi MICU RN, Salma Rios.

Rios made the transition from a certified nurses assistant to a registered nurse in the middle of the pandemic, something she said there was no way she could have prepared for.

“As a new grad, it’s scary enough as is when you are going into the nursing field, and you don’t really know what’s going on,” said Rios. “Now, starting with COVID, we are starting something we haven’t even studied, don’t even know how to take care of these patients, haven’t seen anything like this and it’s scarier as a new nurse.”

Nurses like Rios are facing fatigue and exhaustion as the number of COVID-19 cases are starting to rise. Rios said nurses in the ICU are covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment at the start of their shift. They are working long hours without even being able to have a drink of water due to the potential exposure and spread of the virus.

“It’s a lot emotionally, physically, mentally,” said Rios.

Ascension Via Christi said the pandemic is taking its toll on healthcare workers.

Our outcomes for treating patients infected with COVID-19 are better than state and national averages. Even so, we have seen a 40 percent year-to-date increase in patient deaths in our MICU over the prior year. So while caregivers in any ICU know that not every patient will survive, our team is experiencing these losses in a much more compressed period of time and that takes an emotional toll on everyone.

Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sam Antonios

Jennifer Phelps is a nursing manager at the hospital’s MICU. She has worked as a nurse for more than two decades and said she’s witnessed her staff grow tired and overwhelmed. Nurses in other medical units have even stepped in to help relieve her staff, just so they can get a break.

Despite all that nurses are experiencing, she said the hardest part is calling families to relay bad news.

“People are tired of covid, I get it, we are too,” said Phelps. “There’s a lot of complaints about wearing a mask, but what’s uncomfortable is calling a wife to tell her that her husband just died. What’s uncomfortable is to have to call a mother to have to tell her that we have to intubate her young son. What’s uncomfortable is to have to make three or four calls to a funeral home in one shift to tell them to come and pick up a body.”

Phelps said while she understands many people are tired of the novel virus, it’s important that people continue wearing masks and social distancing.