Healthcare workers look to County leaders for help addressing trauma brought on by the pandemic

Madison, Wis. – Dane County healthcare workers proposed a plan to County Supervisors Thursday night to help address the trauma they’ve experienced since the start of the pandemic and related staffing shortages.

Area nurses and President of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin Pat Raes met virtually with members of the County’s Health and Human Needs Committee to discuss a trauma recovery and training program.

UW Nurse Shari Signer is a supporter of the program and said the pandemic has pushed nurses to the brink and it’s taken a toll on their mental health.

“We are facing a lot more verbal abuse from the patients,” she said. “Nurses crying on a daily basis over the care that they are desperately trying to provide and they can’t.”

According to a survey conducted on behalf of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, the state’s largest healthcare union, 85 percent of Dane County’s healthcare workers say it feels like they’re working in a warzone–doing what they can to survive.

That same survey found that 19 percent of 920 respondents say they know of a healthcare worker who has considered suicide.

Raes also said many workers report being burnout, having increased anxiety and using substances to cope.

She said it’s this reason they are asking HHN Committee members to propose a resolution that would develop a program to offer things like free mental health, and training opportunities for staff, hoping it would help retain and recruit more healthcare workers.

It’s a plan that comes with a $30 million price-tag and has County leaders asking why they should be the ones to foot the bill.

“That some of our healthcare institutions sit on piles of money and pay their executives a lot of money is not lost on us either,” said HHN committee member and County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner.

At Thursday’s virtual meeting Weglietner said the County wants to help but they’re trying to understand where they fit in.

“I hear you, that some employers are not listening and that this solution should not just be an employer solution,” she explained. “I’m not trying to say the County doesn’t want to help or I don’t to help because absolutely I do.”

UW Nurse Amanda Klinge said she considers the proposal a matter of public health.

“Without us around to take care of the community there is no one to provide the care our community needs,” she said. “We’ve been taking care of everyone for so long so we need someone to help take care of us.”

Nursing group representatives said they are willing to work with the County to find different ways to fund the program but say the solution should still involve healthcare workers, employers, and the County.