Page 41 - HealthcareNews May/June 2021
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very quickly how to communicate via the glass,” she explained. “They would take dry-erase markers and write on the glass the patient’s vital signs, what their assessments were, and notes to themselves so they could go back and document them later. That prevented them from bringing in paper and pens and other things that could get cross- contaminated, or their computers on wheels, which we certainly didn’t want contaminated, and it made for super- efficient care.
“They were also communicating with each other, be- cause you couldn’t hear really well through the glass, and if someone needed a piece of equipment, they would write it on glass for their colleague to get for them,” she went on. “It was really ingenious.”
There are countless other examples of creative thinking, she said, adding that the past 15 months have been marked by teamwork and camaraderie on levels she had never seen previously, especially when it came to taking care of residents of the nearby Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, who were relocated to HMC amid a fierce COVID breakout that would eventually claim more than 70 lives.
“Because elective surgeries were suspended, many of our surgical services staff gave their services to these veterans, developed strong bonds with them, and really shined dur- ing this time,” she explained.
Elaborating, she said nurses, and other personnel as well, were often thrust into new roles, where they worked in different areas of the hospital and with people whose names they knew only from the badges on their uniforms. This created stress on some levels, but also a greater sense of teamwork — and some new friendships.
Klucznik agreed. “People would say, ‘I never met so and so, but now, she’s my best friend.’ They learned to trust quicker because it was a war zone in the beginning; that’s the best way I can put it.”
Stepping Up
And the work didn’t stop when the 12-hour shift (which usually became 13 hours or more) ended, said those we spoke with, adding that nurses often became trusted con- sultants on all things COVID for a family, a neighborhood, or a business.
“I think I became the nurse for my father’s business,” said Gamble, adding that phone calls and e-mails came at all hours of the day from people who had questions and needed answers from someone they trusted. “I was the nurse for neighbors, my family, and their businesses
because they didn’t have an infection-control nurse like we do here.”
Desai concurred.
“Our work didn’t stop when we left our jobs — phone calls happened all night long, from family and friends and friends of friends and family of friends,” she said. “Every- one knows a nurse, and nurses are a source of truth and information, so we did a lot of alleviating fear and anxiety and public teaching and information sharing. It was inces- sant, it was non-stop, and it still hasn’t stopped. People have questions about the vaccine, about whether they should be wearing a mask — every day we’re inundated.” To help these nurses deal with all that COVID threw
at them, hospitals, with considerable amounts of support from the community, created various support networks, if you will.
At Mercy, this support took many forms, said Gamble, who listed everything from community donations of meals, food, and cards expressing appreciation to the comfort cart, which supplied snacks, juice, water, chocolate, and more, to what came to be known simply as ‘resiliency rounds.’
“These were moments when the nurse leaders — myself, the directors, managers, assistant nurse managers ... they would come to a unit and say, ‘guys, we’re going to watch all your patients,’” she explained, adding that the nurses being relieved would take part in sessions marked by quiet reflection, meditation, and questions and answers with Mercy’s mission team.
Later, 10-minute yoga sessions and even pet therapy were added to the regimen in an effort to help nurses manage stress and strain, said Gamble, adding quickly that, even while COVID cases continue what has become a steady decline, this work continues because the need remains.
Klucznik agreed, noting that Baystate has implemented a number of initiatives to help nurses (and all personnel, for that matter) cope with the physical and emotional strains from COVID — and there are many.
“We worked with our department of Psychiatry and
set up a whole response where there would be counseling available to staff who wanted to take advantage of that,” she said. ‘And our Spiritual Services team was unbelievable, making sure that they were rounding to all the units, talk- ing to staff, and giving them time to share their grief and whatnot.”
Elaborating, she said staff members, and especially nurses, were, and still are, coping with many different forms of stress.
“Teams were broken up,” she explained. “And people come to work because, while they like their work and their patients, they also like their supervisor and their staff,
and now, they couldn’t even take a break together. They
couldn’t eat and enjoy each other’s company because we had to socially distance from one another and keep each other safe. All of these additional factors could affect one’s ability to de-stress.”
For some in the nursing profession, the pandemic and all that came with it proved to be too much, and for some, it was enough to push them into retirement somewhat earlier than they had planned. Meanwhile, for those with families, COVID forced some hard decisions.
“I know a lot of nurses who said, ‘I have to go per diem or I have to go part-time — I don’t know what else to do; my kids are home,’” Gamble said.
Desai agreed, noting that, while there was an abundance of staffing at the beginning of the pandemic as education and training nurses and even some retired and quasi- retired nurses volunteered for the front lines, as things worsened, the attrition did as well.
“We did have people drop off our rosters,” she explained. “The dark reality is that some nurses tapped out and said, ‘this isn’t for me, I can’t do this every day, I’m exhausted.’ Some people took early retirement, and some people just frankly had post-traumatic stress. The sadness of COVID
is real, and we definitely took the stance that no patient was going to die alone, and they didn’t. But the amount of death that some people saw took a toll on them, and they bowed out of the profession.”
Lorraina Smith-Zuba, executive director of Perioperative Services at HMC, concurred, but noted that, throughout the pandemic and the various forms of attrition that have occurred, others have stepped up to fill voids and cover for others when the need arose.
“We’ve all pitched in,” she said. “Everyone stood up for everyone else.”
Bottom Line
Looking back on the past 15 months, Desai said she and most others in this profession have been too busy dealing with all that is in front of them to take a deep dive into the past and fully reflect on all that has happened.
“I don’t think any of us have had the time to process yet, debrief, and really make sense of all we’ve been through,” she told HCN. “We’re still very much in the heat of it.”
Still, one thing seems clear. Her nursing instructor was right; success in this line of work comes from being creative and overcoming challenge.
The region’s nurses have proven that time and again since March 2020, and they keep finding new ways to make that point. COVID has tested their mettle in every way possible, and in most all ways, they have certainly passed the test. v

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