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A tribute to all of our nurses

  By Karen Davis, PhD, RN, NEA-BC
  Tuesday, May 5, 2020

I’ve long believed that in a time of crisis, you really get to see what people are made of. It’s an unfortunate truth that it’s often the most trying set of circumstances that brings out the best in people.

And that’s never been more true than the way I’ve seen nurses respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have had the opportunity to watch things unfold here at Strong Memorial Hospital and across the UR Medical Center and UR Medicine system, and I have just been in awe. People in this organization – not just our clinical staff but the supply chain workers, our environmental services workers, the transporters, our communications team, each and every member of our team – have risen to the occasion and turned this disaster into a spectacular opportunity to show what they are capable of.

I’m especially proud of our nurses, who have shown great courage, flexibility, and creativity on the front lines of this fight.

We watched this approaching from afar. China. Italy. Then COVID-19 landed in the U.S. and, soon, New York City, and we realized very quickly that we needed to prepare.

DavisAt Strong, we had been training for this already. We had a Highly Infectious Disease Unit made up of individual nurses from units across the hospital that we had started in response to the Ebola threat several years ago, but it was virtual and would have to be activated. We also knew we needed to learn more about the disease and wrap our heads around what we were trying to handle.

Rather than back away and be afraid of the unknown, our nurses have gone right after it and tried to find the best possible way to confront this challenge head-on. That’s what I am most appreciative of – they don’t just come to work and do their jobs, but they come, they are positive, they form new teams, they look for ways to improve care under difficult circumstances, and they embrace new ways of doing things, often on a daily basis.

This whole process has been an exercise in flexibility with the intent always being how do we take the best care of our patients and staff. The information that we have can change on any given day – we might learn something new from our colleagues in New York or get new guidelines from the CDC – so the scenarios in which our nurses work change almost every day as we implement new practices.

Because most of our COVID patients will require greater level of care, we’ve had to make some creative staffing changes to extend the reach of our ICU nurses. We only have so many critical care nurses, so in order to maximize their impact, we’ve teamed them up with floor nurses, students, and techs, which has allowed them to effectively double their patient load. That’s not something we would do on an ordinary day, but these aren’t ordinary times.

But it’s not just their teams that are changing. We’ve had to pick up and move entire units so that we can repurpose geographical space within the hospital, putting nurses on new floors or even outside the hospital, as we set up a tent outside the ED to triage patients. We’ve also asked nurses, who have been taught to provide their care face to face from the patient’s bedside, to use telemedicine and speak to patients by phone and via iPad in order to limit their exposure to COVID-positive patients and extend the life of their PPE. Again, that’s a step necessitated due to the extreme seriousness of this emergency.

I’m so grateful for the spirit and the culture here that people accept those changes and move forward without blinking an eye. That speaks to our leadership, but also the talent we have in this organization and the level of expertise and engagement we have on our nursing team.

Far from being fazed by this, our nurses have supported one another through this process and recognized each other for their great work. We are so fortunate to be part of a system with great colleagues and providers who look to our nurses for their direction and have at times deferred to nursing to take the lead, which is really telling and speaks to the collective amount of trust in our nursing team.

We’ve also seen an outpouring of gratitude from the public, and I have to say, it has helped us immensely. So many community members, businesses, and organizations have given us donations, provided us meals, sent in cards and letters, posted signs around the hospital, or just offered us their sincere thanks over these past few months. Those efforts are so helpful to our staff. When they’re tired or wavering a little bit or getting stressed out and they see something like that, they know the whole community is relying on them. We’ve all been so touched by what people have said and done to help rally support. To hear from community members that they couldn’t make it through this without us, it just gives me chills.

Let me say that I share your gratitude. All of our nurses are working hard throughout this process, whether they are taking care of a COVID positive patient or they’re taking care of a baby in the NICU. Everyone is affected by this. This is in our community, so we’re dealing with our entire workforce being impacted by this. It’s not just one group that’s going to get us across the finish line. It’s everybody.

I am still somewhat new to this city. I’m only in my second year here, so in some ways, I’m still trying to figure things out. But one thing I knew the second I arrived was that there was this mentality about working hard and getting things done here, and that resonated with me.

It’s been awe-inspiring to see how people have taken this on. We are so fortunate to have the group of nurses and health care providers that we do here. I am inspired by the teamwork that I’ve seen and I’m grateful to be a part of it. It just reinforces that I absolutely made the right decision coming here.

Karen Davis, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, is chief nursing officer at Strong Memorial Hospital and chief nursing executive at the University of Rochester Medical Center and its affiliate hospitals.This article originally appeared in the Democrat & Chronicle's Salute to Nurses.

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