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California leads the nation in COVID deaths, now nearly 52,000. And as hospitalizations and infections are on the decline, some healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID crisis are now facing a mental health crisis.

As vaccinations increase and COVID cases plummet, there is reason to be optimistic about the COVID-19 disaster in the United States, but all is not well.

After being asked how she was doing, ICU nurse Mariana Roman replied, “That’s a loaded question. I’m exhausted.”

The fight against COVID has taken its toll on healthcare workers, especially those in ICUs. New studies show that almost half may have mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and PTSD.

Rebecca Sandoval, ICU clinical nursing director at Los Angeles’ largest hospital, said, “It’s been a long road and we’re not at the end. We’re going to have to make sure our staff are okay. again.”

Each power surge leads to increased workload, personal risk of infection and loss of many patients.

Roman said she saw too many deaths. “Sometimes I would come home and cry,” she says. “It’s hard to come home and turn it off.”

The stress of healthcare workers is compounded as they watch beds fill up with members of their community. In California, infection rates among Latinos are double those of white residents.

“So many people have been sick and in the hospital its underserved population, really, just access to care,” Sandoval said. “I think of all the comorbidities that we have as Hispanics – diabetes, hypertension, all of those things.”

Help has arrived, including at County USC Medical Center. The Biden administration has deployed troops to speed up the fire and assist the intensive care unit.

US Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson said: “Our providers were able to go to these hospitals and decompress these hospitals and wrap their arms around the staff there, just wonderful.”

Respiratory therapist Derick Sherwood serves in the Air Force. He’s been in this intensive care unit for months.

“I really use FaceTime with my family. That’s how I keep my balance,” Sherwood said when asked how he was doing.

Checking in with loved ones, eating well and exercising helps prevent burnout, but there is a risk of PTSD – similar to fighting.

Captain Hughes Choy, a military psychologist, said, “For our medical providers, you see repeated loss of life every day. It will tire you out.”

But with fewer deaths and infections, things seem to be improving.

“It’s a new day. It’ll be a better day. That’s what I keep telling myself. Today is going to be a better day,” Roman said.

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