Telemetry staff, pictured left to right: Katie Higbee, unit secretary/tele tech; Madison Goucher, nurse aide; Rose Connelly, RN; Meghan Kleubar, RN; Nicole DiCroce, RN; Courtney Scheuke, unit secretary; and Diya Brown, nurse aide.
While every department on the front lines is feeling the pressure of COVID-19, few are feeling it as much as those working in the telemetry and ICU units. Collectively the departments are often referred to as “critical care” because this is where we care for the sickest patients, including those with COVID-19.
On the telemetry unit, patients need constant monitoring of their vital signs, but they’re not yet in need of a ventilator. When that happens, they are moved across the floor to the ICU where they are intubated.
Both confirmed positive patients and those suspected of having it are in negative pressure isolation rooms and require nurses wear full PPE before entering. One of the biggest challenges the departments face is how time consuming it is to constantly change in and out of their personal protective equipment. It’s an added step in an already highly stressful situation.
They’re also going above and beyond their normal roles, too, says Luanne McGroarty, nurse manager of telemetry and ICU.
“Because we’re trying to minimize the number of staff who have contact with patients in isolation, nurses are picking up additional responsibilities, like tidying up the room and taking meal orders and serving them. They’re even drawing blood, which they often do anyway, but not on everyone,” McGroarty says.
She also can’t stress enough what well-oiled machines the two departments are, and how much they rely on support from their health unit coordinators, aides, social workers, care managers, respiratory therapists and ancillary staff.
“Shore really is like a family, especially in the ICU and telemetry. It’s like they can read each other’s’ thoughts – they just know intuitively what needs to be done.”
That’s especially important in the face of this virus, which is highly unpredictable. Patients can seem fine one minute, but 20 minutes later their oxygen levels can drop significantly.
Nicole DiCroce is a clinical supervisor on the Telemetry Unit. She shared her thoughts recently on what this experience has been like for her and her team.
“One of the biggest challenges we’re facing is the uncertainty of it all. Trying to keep patients, families and staff calm and informed in this unique, ever-evolving time is unlike anything I’ve experienced,” she says. “I try to remain calm by repeating the things I know to be true – that this is a unique time and things are changing constantly, but that this too shall pass.”
Despite the challenges, DiCroce says staff are doing an awesome job keeping patients connected with their families, even behind all of that PPE.
“They’re providing families with more frequent updates, FaceTiming with families and giving patients activities to keep themselves occupied during their time in isolation.”
McGroarty says she’s always been impressed with critical care staff and their competence.
“They take their job very seriously and really do what they need to do to protect a patient’s life. They’re very knowledgeable and they work together as a team. If one person is struggling, they all chip in to help.”
Joanna Tomensky is a bedside and charge nurse in the ICU. She says remaining calm and feeling confident that you’ve maintained every safety precaution donning and doffing PPE is one of her biggest concerns. But she has to be strong for her patients and their families.
“Families are calling the unit for updates. They need a reassuring voice to let them know their loved one is being cared for. I keep patients and families at ease by letting them know they are in great hands and we are caring for them like we would care for a loved one,” Tomensky says.
Because of the nature of their work, most staff have to be quarantined from family and friends during this experience. DiCroce says she will happily endure quarantine from those she loves if it means she’s doing her part to keep them safe and healthy.
“I’ve been trading small gifts with my friends through mail and chatting with family on the phone as much as possible. Snail mail suddenly became fun again!”
Tomensky agrees but admits this experience has changed her.
“When this is behind us, I will be grateful for everything I took for granted, like hugging friends and family, shopping, and walks on the beach.”
DiCroce says one thing she’ll take away from this experience when it’s over is the pride she has in her fellow healthcare workers and essential personnel.
“We keep showing up, even when it is scary and unknown.”
For more photos of staff, please visit Shore Medical Center's Facebook page.