Lexi Vanore is an ER nurse on the front lines of COVID-19. “We’re used to having families right there where we can easily update them and ask them questions. Now we call families when we can, but we have to take off all of our PPE just to do that.”
ER staff are used to jumping into action in the most challenging medical emergencies, doing whatever it takes to save lives. They’re incredibly brave and bright, and exactly the kind of people you want on the front lines of COVID-19.
“The ER team works best in stressful situations like we are now,” says Sherri Richmond, nurse manager of the Emergency Department. “We have an amazing group of people. But COVID-19 is by far the most challenging experience I’ve had in my 31-year career.”
To start, they had to completely reconfigure the Emergency Department in order to keep possible COVID-19 patients separate from other ER patients from the moment they arrive. It was a huge collaboration between the facilities team, environmental services, security, ER nurses and doctors. They erected new walls and began rerouting respiratory patients to a separate entrance where they would be cared for in a newly-created 17-bed unit just for them. And it was all done in a few weeks.
But the biggest impact, Richmond says, is the physical and emotional toll this is taking on staff.
“For every new interaction with a patient, or even just to get a drink of water, our team has to ‘don and doff’ their personal protective equipment. We’re used to receiving a patient and jumping in. Wearing layers of PPE is time consuming, exhausting, and hard on our bodies,” Richmond says.
Keeping up with the ever-changing CDC guidelines is also taxing. Richmond holds a daily morning and evening huddle to go over the changes.
“The staff are constantly learning new best practices. They’re educating patients who are sent home to self-quarantine. This team overcomes every challenge they are faced with,” Richmond says.
Lexi Vanore is an ER nurse on the front lines who cares for patients suspected of having COVID-19.
“It’s challenging to suddenly be cognizant of every step I take, making sure not to contaminate anything or anyone. It’s scary – but I have to keep myself healthy. I have a two-year-old at home and need to protect my family,” Vanore says.
She also acknowledged the difficulties they face without families there to help.
“We’re used to having families right there where we can easily update them and ask them questions. They also help keep the patient comforted. Now we call families when we can, but we have to take off our PPE just to do that,” Vanore says. “The ‘no visitor’ rule is especially hard on our older patients. They’re scared, but I think we’re doing everything we can to ease their worries.”
Ron Reed, Sr., is an ER technician who shared his thoughts after an especially harrowing night in the ER.
“The ER is always stressful, but it’s a different kind of stress now. All you want to do is save this person’s life. Before you could just jump in and perform CPR. Now you jump in and have to think about everything else, too,” Reed says.
As tough as ER nurses are, it’s only natural to need some additional emotional support right now. The hospital has a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team in place to help them talk though difficult experiences and reduce their stress levels. It’s staffed by social workers, nurse managers and others who meet with staff one-on-one or in groups depending on the needs. Richmond called in the CISM team for one particular incident recently, and plans to have them come speak with staff once a week during this crisis.
“My biggest focus is on keeping staff healthy and our patients healthy,” Richmond says. “I’m constantly checking in to see how they are, or what they need. The hospital has been great at ensuring we have supplies, and the community’s generosity providing meals, masks, headbands, snacks and everything else is getting us through this, too. I can’t emphasize enough how much that support keeps us going and inspires us.