Traveling front-line worker finds escape in Tampa and St. Petersburg amid pandemic

By David Melhorn

USFSP Student Reporter

TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG – Traveling nurse Halle Pinizzotto knows that the pandemic is plaguing Florida, but this did not deter her from accepting an offer to fill a position at Tampa General Hospital.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to be a nurse,” Pinizzotto said. “I went to a specialized high school that offers a Health Sciences program. I just knew that I wanted to help people to the best of my ability. When the opportunity presented itself, I was more than ready to go to Florida. I’ve never been to the area, and to be able to do my job with the beach not far away was clearly enticing enough to solidify my decision.”

Pinizzotto works in the ICU at Tampa General Hospital primarily with coronavirus patients with high oxygen requirements and the critically ill. She has worked two out of her three-month contract with Tampa General Hospital.

According to reporting from the Tampa Bay Times, Florida has reported 3,409,165 coronavirus cases with 48,722 deaths due to the coronavirus as of Sept. 17, 2021.

“The truth is most of us are exhausted,” Pinizzotto said when asked how morale is in the hospitals. “But the reward of taking care of a patient and seeing them improve keeps us going.”

After changing into her isolation scrubs and donning her protective equipment, Pinizzotto typically reviews orders, labs and medications before proceeding to check the patients’ IV drips, ensuring that they are full and braces for the ensuing shift.

“We are spread very thin. So not only are we in unsafe circumstances because of the raging coronavirus all around us, we are unable to provide the care we would like to because we have more patients than safe and limited resources. Maintaining your morale is difficult with so much sadness around,” Pinizzotto said.

Tampa General Hospital is a 1,041-bed non-profit research and academic medical center located on Davis Island in Tampa. TGH was recognized as one of America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report 2021-22 according to the hospital’s website.

A Tampa Bay Times reporter recently spent 12 hours in a COVID-19 ICU ward in Clearwater, documenting what nurses and other hospital staff experience on a daily basis. The report also detailed how health leaders are seeing nurses feeling demoralized, exhausted, and frustrated over still having to deal with people who will not wear a mask or get vaccinated.

It has become increasingly frustrating for healthcare professionals such as Pinizzotto, who continues to work herself to exhaustion every day and witness the coronavirus firsthand, only to come home and see friends on social media debating the seriousness of the pandemic.

“I would urge them to talk to someone who is seeing it firsthand,” Pinizzotto said. “I don’t even have the energy for people like that anymore because it is truly exhausting to see people dying all around you and people tell you that it’s not real or that you’re lying about it. I’ll never be able to express the sadness and trauma that I will carry around the rest of my life because of working in the COVID-19 ICU for the last year and a half. It won’t get better if people don’t start doing their part. Until then, people will keep being hospitalized and dying and eventually the health care workers will be so burnt-out people will be lucky if hospitals ever have adequate staffing or safe conditions/patient ratios ever again.”

Pinizzotto is no stranger to going to states that are surging with coronavirus cases. Before Tampa, she was assigned to a hospital in Dallas, Texas, which is flooded with new daily coronavirus cases much like Tampa. Pinizzotto is from New Jersey and worked in Arizona before Texas. She graduated with a nursing degree from Widener University in Pennsylvania in 2016.

“One thing that has shocked me about working in Florida the most is the lack of vaccinated people including those in the healthcare profession. What has also shocked me is that this place is all about freedom, but marijuana isn’t legal,” Pinizzotto said. “The biggest difference working in Florida compared to other states is that Florida protects their healthcare providers well (as far as I have seen) from violence in the workplace more seriously. However, they don’t compensate the nurses as well for how hard they work you the way that northern and far western hospitals have done. This is also noted anytime you tell a recruiter you want to work in Florida- they warn you about this.”

With the constant stress and sadness, Pinizzotto urges people to find a way to cope and unwind. Pinizzotto knows that there is much to do in the area and tries to experience as much of it as she can after recovering from a grueling work shift.

“I have been so impressed with the area. I find myself trying to convince all my friends to visit here. From the beaches to the bars to the people, the vibe here just feels very genuine to me,” Pinizzotto said.

Some of her favorite experiences in the area include John’s Pass, Downtown St. Pete, Whiskey Joe’s, Teak at St. Pete Pier and Oystercatchers in Tampa.

“If I had to convince someone to move here, I would take them to St. Pete Beach and Downtown during the day with dinner on the St. Pete Pier. I would tell them about the beautiful beaches around the area and cool bars and restaurants to try. It’s also just full of beauty with the bay, water, trees, parks, and wildlife,” Pinizzotto said. “Florida is a lawless place. People are allowed to do almost anything they want, and I understand why that is desirable. I am in love with the beach towns all around. People seem happy here.”

When asked if there were still something she would like to do before she leaves Pinizzotto said, “Tiki hut boat bar ride at John’s Pass, Siesta Key Beach, and Bern’s Steakhouse.”

Pinizzotto could not find many things she dislikes about Florida. When I asked, she only said, “I don’t know… gators!? Significant less money but it’s a great destination. Lastly, no one is vaccinated.”

Halle Pinizzotto, center, is a traveling nurse who has spent the last two months in Tampa and St. Petersburg amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *