KANSAS CITY – It’s another toll of the pandemic, one that goes past the case numbers and loss of life.

Healthcare providers on the frontlines remain burned out and exhausted. Long hours, demanding situations, and watching unvaccinated patients die has a recognizable effect on hospital workers.

One Kansas City metro hospital is seeing the impact on its respiratory therapists, workers who give critical care to COVID-19 patients who are often hanging in the balance.

Administrators at the University of Kansas Health System report 15 respiratory therapists have left their positions at the hospital within the past month due to exhaustion and frustration. That puts more strain on a medical staff that was already short-staffed at a hospital that’s 88% filled.

Julie Rojas, a respiratory therapist at the hospital, said the task feels heavier, knowing the demand is still high, even as healthcare workers walk away.

“There are some weeks I’m here at the hospital more than I’m at home. Your co-workers become like your family, and they understand the things you see and deal with. It’s hard for us to lose them, emotionally too,” Rojas said during Tuesday morning’s KU Health System morning briefing.

It’s a national shortage that’s come to rest in the Kansas City metro.

In places like North Carolina, respiratory therapists are seeing up to four times as many patients as they did before COVID, according to the Associated Press. The problem grows as vaccination rates remain low and people continue to get sick.

Nurses are feeling the strain, too. Heidi Lucas, director of the Missouri Nurses’ Association, said no one was prepared for the pandemic’s challenge, which will reach the two-year mark in early 2022.

“It’s been a very long time running at this constant high,” Lucas said Tuesday. “We’re seeing a lot of mental health issues as well as some physical health issues that start to manifest themselves because of the stress that they’re under.”

Medical caregivers continue to ask for patience. Hospitals across the nation are actively searching for nurses and respiratory therapists since COVID’s rage isn’t dying down.