By Maria Medina

SAN LEANDRO (KPIX) — In the beginning they were hailed as heroes, recognized for their work and applauded as they left hospitals and clinics caring for the alarmingly increasing number of COVID-19 patients.

But more than a year and half into the pandemic, nurses and doctors have witnessed a shift. Patients are more combative and social media is trusted over science.

READ MORE: Oakland Ties 2020 Homicide Total in First 9 Months of 2021

The physical and emotional toll on healthcare workers is apparent in the staffing issues, two registered nurses told KPIX. Many are retiring early, sick or choosing not to work at certain hospitals depending on work conditions.

“We had one nurse doing the jobs of three people,” said San Leandro Hospital registered nurse and California Nursing Association board member Mawata Kamara. “That’s dangerous, that’s dangerous. One person should not be doing the job of three people.”

RELATED: Nurses Say Continuing Personnel Shortages Beset COVID Care Workers

Mawata and others in the healthcare industry fear it’ll only get worse, especially as the highly-contagious delta variant pushes COVID cases in the country through another surge.

Catherine Kennedy is also a registered nurse. She began her career in the 1980s and has worked through the H1N1 pandemic, the Ebola outbreak and the AIDS epidemic.

But she said she and her colleagues have never seen this many people die in a 19-month period.

“I don’t remember a time when it was this bad where as soon as a patient dies, the next patient comes in just as sick,” said Kennedy, who works at the Kaiser Permanente in Roseville. “We’re seeing more hospitalizations quicker than we did last year and now we’re seeing younger folks. We’re saying, ‘If you’re sick and there isn’t a need for you to come in to the ER, stay home.’ That’s really sad that we have to be that way, but there’s just not enough room right now, so we’re creating bed space.”

At San Leandro Hospital, Kamara said they’re also talking about how to make room for the spike in COVID patients.

READ MORE: Advocates for Immigrant Rights March From Santa Rosa to Healdsburg

“It’s going to get worse because we are now seeing sicker people,” Kamara said. “We’re now putting patients in the hallway like we were when we were at the peak of the last surge.”

On top of that, some of the patients and visitors who do come in don’t trust what they have to say, specifically when it comes to the COVID vaccine.

“We are seeing an increase in volatile behavior whether it’s the patient or the visitor,” Kennedy said. “Very verbally abusive, combative patients, especially in the ER. Those nurses and doctors are getting quite a handful.”

Several days ago, Kamara said a man became volatile toward staff after being told he wouldn’t be allowed to visit a COVID positive patient per hospital protocol.

“He said he was going to come back to the hospital with a gun,” said Kamara. “We had to go on lockdown until the next morning. That was it for me. I needed a mental health day after that.”

Even more difficult, they said, are the patients who trust their neighbor over a nurse or social media over a doctor.

“I was taking care of a 30-year-old patient who has COVID and his whole family has COVID and he told me, ‘I wish I would’ve gotten the vaccine, I didn’t take it seriously,'” Kamara said. “Prior to this pandemic, nurses were one of the most trusted professions. It breaks my heart that we’ve gotten to the point where there’s so much distrust in healthcare.”

Kennedy, who is the president of the California Nurses Association and part of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, remembers a time when she told another nurse it was OK to cry.

“She said, ‘I held his hand and held his hand said it was going to be OK,’ and then when he did pass she just broke down and started crying,” Kennedy said. “It’s hard and it’s exhausting.”

MORE NEWS: Pelosi Expects House to Pass Infrastructure Bill This Week

This is the first of a two-part series. The second part airs Friday, September 3.