Story by: Tracy Keller on August 23, 2021
More than a year after our first COVID-19 diagnosis, many staff have come to terms with the virus and its continued presence in our lives. As health care professionals, we know what to expect with COVID-19 and how to provide care for patients. And, several successful vaccines later, we are operating within our “new normal.”
Kimberly Flanders, R.N., vice president, Patient Care Services, and chief nursing officer, Norton Hospital, took some time to reflect on those early days, when the unknown was all we knew.
“We were in disbelief, thinking it’s not going to happen here,” Kim said. “As it got closer, we began wondering how we were going to prepare for that.”
Teams across the organization did just that in a matter of days. The Norton Clinical Command Center was created and operated as the central hub for system process and procedure development, with facilities relaying their needs at a rapid pace.
“It became overwhelming at times, but our staff really rose to the challenge,” Kim said. “When I think and reflect back, it was how the staff really pulled together and said, ‘Today’s a different day. And tomorrow is a different day.’”
Each day — each hour — was different during the beginning of the pandemic, and that experience was so unlike anything even the most seasoned health care professional had seen before. Kim solemnly reflects on the trauma many of our care team members faced during those early days, due to the critical condition of many COVID-19 patients.
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“When you come into health care, you know people are going to die — that’s part of what we do every day,” Kim said. “I remember one day, a doctor came up to me — it was around 11 a.m. — and said, ‘I’ve already lost four patients this morning.’ The emotional toll that had on our health care providers was hard.”
In many cases, staff had to step in to become family for those patients whose family members couldn’t be there in those final moments.
“I think that was probably the roughest part for everybody.” Kim said. “People sometimes compare this to soldiers who go to war. As one person passes away, there’s another one waiting to get into that bed. You never knew what the outcome was going to be. Those were some of the darkest days that I think a lot of people went through.”
Kim said she had two focuses as a leader to help get her team through those dark days: supporting staff emotionally and ensuring they had the equipment they needed to care for patients and themselves.
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