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Nurses Say Colorado Hospitals Are In Crisis And It's Getting Worse

DENVER (CBS) -- She was named nurse of the year in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, she's been fired -- and is speaking out. Stevie Silvers says UCHealth let her go, a year and a half after honoring her for "transformational leadership."

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"I've been told, across the board, you'll never find another job in health care."

Silvers says she was let go for choosing her health over her job, and she's not talking about the vaccine -- although she does have a religious exemption.

"I was getting sores in the back of my throat, under my tongue and nose."

Because of the exemption, she's required to get a COVID test every 72 hours. She says she had a reaction to the nasal swab, and UCHealth fired her -- instead of giving her a saliva test.

"At the height of such a deadly disease and pandemic, when it's so important to have all hands on deck, how can they deem anyone disposable right now?"

UCHealth's Poudre Valley Hospital, where Silvers was the charge nurse in the surgical unit, has a staffing shortage so severe that federal health workers have been called in.

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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says a surge in COVID cases is straining hospitals. Silvers says the numbers don't tell the whole story.

"We do have a population that includes our COVID patients that we wouldn't have had two years ago, but it doesn't speak to why our hospitals are full the way they are."

According to the CDPHE, about 25% of the COVID hospitalizations it reports are people being treated for something else, who happened to test positive.

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The Colorado Hospital Association says overall COVID patients represent about 15-18% of the hospital population. More concerning are hospital staffing numbers -- 46% of hospitals anticipate a shortage of workers in the next week.

But Colleen Casper, head of the Colorado Nurses Association, says every hospital has a shortage of nurses.

"We have a very big disconnect between the accuracy of what's reported and the decisions that are being made. I get calls every day from nurses in tears, describing what patients are experiencing, and they're helpless to do anything because there's simply not enough of them."

Hospitals, she says, have failed to invest in nurses for years, and are now underestimating the loss of nurses like Silvers.

"And now have brand new graduates coming in to take their place, and most of their experience is simulated, because they haven't been able to go into a hospital. It's a crisis now and it's going to get worse."

Silvers agrees, "It's not an issue of having the beds, it's an issue of not having the staff, and being willing to force out staff good enough and willing to work through a pandemic."

UCHealth wouldn't talk about Silvers' case specifically but says, "Any employees who received an approved vaccine exemption are required to be tested for COVID-19 twice each week."

UCHealth requires a nasal PCR test because it claims they are "the most accurate tests and provide the highest level of protection for everyone in our facilities."

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