In 2019, the World Health Organization declared 2020 to be the International Year of the Nurse—a time to celebrate and recognize the work of all nurses, often in challenging conditions, in order to advocate for increasing the investment in nursing and nurses, and to finally eliminate the shortage of nurses around the world.
Then, shortly into the year 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world. The intersection of these two events cannot be unnoticed or disregarded. Nurses, along with all healthcare providers, are at the forefront of a battle to preserve health and society—globally as well as locally. Each day, we see stories of the challenging conditions nurses and their colleagues face as they care for an overwhelming number of patients with an unpredictable disease and shortages of supplies that could impact their normal protocols.
While the day-to-day life of the nurses at Augusta Health has changed, their core values, character and commitment to their patients—and each other—has not. They are proud of the skill and expertise of their teams, of their courage and dedication to patients, and most importantly, of being the human connection in a time of isolation and quarantine. They are resilient—experiencing one rough day after another, but always coming back for the next shift.
And they are the best to tell their stories.
Kim Sullenger, MSN, RN
Quality Coordinator, Augusta Health Home Health and Augusta Health Hospice of the Shenandoah
I did feel prepared for this situation. My role as Quality Coordinator requires that I participate in Emergency Preparedness activities as part of our accreditation process. My past experience as a home health nurse helped me anticipate the needs of our nurses and clinicians as they move through caring for home patients during a pandemic.
What has been challenging, though, is the rapidly changing and evolving information. There is new information every day, sometime even more than once a day. Consistent and effective communication about recent requirements to staff who are out in the community has required strategy and creative thinking. We implemented staff receiving daily updates by email, and we have Conference Calls two or three times a week to allow for question-and-answer sessions.
We also have worked closely with staff to ensure they have 'just the right amount' of Personal Protective Equipment. They need enough to be protected, but we need to be sure no one is going without it. We have nearly 100 staff, and at first, eye protection was especially challenging. But we were able to secure enough goggles for all.
On the other side of the equation, there have been incredible positives to facing COVID-19 together---TEAMWORK! Our staff has been amazing. It's been incredible to see everyone pulling together for the good of each other and our patients. It's a "Whatever It Takes" attitude! People are doing tasks outside of their normal job responsibilities, and have completely understood the need to cross-train to prepare for the surge. They've been willing to take on larger case loads to allow for more patients to be cared for in their homes, and reduce exposure to others. Everything has been done with a positive attitude.
My number one take-away from this entire adventure is: I am proud to be an Augusta Health nurse. I know it sounds cliché, but Augusta Health has been forward-thinking and safety-oriented from Day One. They've been anticipating our needs before we even knew we had a need. This included arranging free child care, having showers available, helping with housing arrangements and take-home meals available at the end of a long day. This support has allowed our staff to continue to work while balancing the needs of their family. Again, I am proud to be an Augusta Health nurse.
Sabine Dukes, BSN RN, PCCN-CMC
Clinical Coordinator, Progressive Care Unit
There have been several challenges to meet during the pandemic. One of the primary concerns has been keeping up with all the new information, protocols and policies that have been developed to manage the pandemic, and then ensuring that the staff is kept informed. The information is always evolving. Another challenge has been to make sure each employee knows how to protect himself or herself through the proper donning and doffing of Personal Protective Equipment.
I'm concerned about caring for the influx of patients while, at the same time, caring for and monitoring our front-line staff. While we are healthcare professionals, we still have a real fear of bringing the virus home to family. At times, the fear is palpable. Yet the staff still comes to work willingly every day to take care of these sick patients.
As part of the preparedness plan, we've reintroduced the concept of 'team nursing' and began training nurses who have been re-deployed from other areas to assist us on the inpatient side of the hospital. With so many team members working together from different areas of the hospital, a real camaraderie is building between employees. We're learning different ways to do things from each other and it's really great to witness.
I'm so proud of how willing all the nurses and team member are to jump in and help each other. I'm proud of the extra comforts they are providing to our patients when the families cannot be with them. I know that long after the pandemic is over Augusta Health will have a much stronger team because we've gone through this together.
Crystal Farmer, MSN, RN, NE-BC
Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer
How fitting is it that the WHO declared 2020 to be the Year of the Nurse? The COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted the resiliency, dedication, commitment and innovation of our nurses at Augusta Health. Throughout this crisis, our nurses, along with the entire Augusta Health team, have risen to the occasion day after day.
As a Chief Nursing Officer, I consider it my job to ensure our nursing teams have the resources to do their jobs, so in turn, they can take care of our patients and our community. I work for my team. With the support of our Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) team, my years at the bedside, experience from various patient surge situations along with Incident Command training, I felt prepared for a pandemic, but nothing could fully prepare us for this crisis and the emotional distress that my team is facing.
From the very beginning, we understood that the key to preparing our nurses to take care of themselves and our community is to provide consistent and transparent communication, 24 hours a day. As the world learns more about the disease, we change and adapt recommendations and guidelines. It has been a challenge to provide reliable information because the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department changed frequently in the first few weeks of the pandemic. We needed to get all that information, which could change hourly, to everyone on the front lines in a way that was not confusing or overwhelming. As a hospital, we had to adapt to the situation and communicate differently with our teams to get them the most up-to date- information with an opportunity to ask questions. We have done this is through virtual town halls, emails, an employee hotline, roving Safety Officers and our Incident Command Center. We know that our consistent communication, education and training has helped decrease the fears and anxiety about COVID-19 and taking care of patients with COVID-19.
Another concern is for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Our nurses need PPE to protect themselves, their families and the patients we serve. We may have enough for today, but we also need to plan for tomorrow when it's uncertain how much PPE we will have and how much we will need. The HICS team put the safety of nurses and team as the number one priority. It is part of my vow to them—that I work for them—to make sure they have the resources they need so they can take care of our patients and our community. The Augusta Health team and Board adopted this promise as well, and we have not failed at our promise to keep them safe.
Our nurses have been amazing! I cannot say enough about how proud I am of them and how blessed I am to be a part of this team. I knew on the first day I came to work here that Augusta Health was special, but to see our team in action has been truly inspirational. All of us have felt a wide range of emotions--we've had laughs, fear and our fair share of tears, but in the end, the nurses at Augusta Health have answered the call the serve our community. We are proud to be nurses at Augusta Health. We've had a few dozen nurses agree to be redeployed to other departments and to other shifts to help during the crisis. We have all adopted our CEO's mantra: We will get through this together. The nurses are all pulling together to get through this, working collaboratively and looking out for each other.
We have been truly touched by the support and kindness or our community. All the signs, well wishes, gestures and gifts of appreciation are really making a difference to the nurses. We don't do what we do for recognition, but seeing and hearing the community's appreciation of us has lifted our spirits. Nurses are resilient. Nursing is not for the weak. We will get through this together.
I am often asked by the community what they can do to help support our nurses. The answer is simple—we really need everyone to stay home to stop the spread of this disease and protect the health and lives of our nurses. We need the help of everyone in the community to protect our frontline team.
Please stay home. Please wash your hands. Please practice social distancing. Our nurses work every day, putting themselves and their own families at risk, to protect you and your family. Nurses are your lifeline—please don't put their lives on the line by not following social distancing guidelines. Please help us help you.