Despite challenges and risks, nurses at LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus remain hopeful and upbeat as they test patients for the coronavirus and prepare for an outbreak.
“I know sometimes it feels like it’s not real, like this isn’t really happening, but it then becomes real when you’re having to wear a mask all day long, or you feel like you’re contagious, but you’re not,” said Jessica Taylor, a triage nurse with the Lincoln Medical Partners specialty department. “It’s just remembering you are protecting others from you, and yourself from others.”
LincolnHealth has reassigned some nurses to meet the hospital’s needs, including Taylor. In her regular job, Taylor fields calls to the specialty department, including general surgery, orthopedics, and the women’s center. She answers questions, gives advice, schedules appointments, and transfers calls.
As of Monday, March 30, there were eight cases of COVID-19 in Lincoln County. Three of those patients tested positive at LincolnHealth, according to hospital spokesperson John Martins.
“We do not know for certain, but we are preparing for a surge,” Martins said.
The hospital has been preparing for an outbreak since the beginnings of the pandemic in China.
“For us, what that looks like right now is we quickly set up a COVID clinic where we could take calls directly from our patients who were curious or felt like they had symptoms that could be indicative of the infection,” said Emily Kutch, a triage nurse who normally fields calls to the primary care unit at LincolnHealth.
Kutch, like Taylor, changed positions due to the outbreak. Both nurses go back and forth between the COVID-19 clinic and the Watson Health Center.
They act as clinical resources for other nurses in the buildings. For example, if there is a hole in the schedule, they will fill it, or they will get necessary supplies for other nurses.
According to Taylor, the transition from a familiar position to a new one is sometimes a challenge.
“At the same time, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” Taylor said. “Our community and our organization need people to change roles right now, and that’s what we are here to do.”
“This monster can be bigger than us, and I feel like (LincolnHealth is) doing an amazing job trying to keep everybody safe,” she said.
The Dorothy B. White building behind the hospital has been converted from offices to a COVID-19 clinic, Kutch said. The clinic follows procedures to keep patients and staff safe.
If someone has a primary care provider outside Lincoln Medical Partners, they must call their provider first for guidance. If a person is a patient of Lincoln Medical Partners, or a practice it is providing coverage for, they should call the office they go to first.
If a patient has symptoms of COVID-19 – cough, fever, and shortness of breath – the nurses determine who should be tested and who should self-isolate.
Patients who need to be tested come to the clinic, but stay in their cars and park in a designated spot.
“Our nurses and medical assistants get gowned up – gloves, face masks, everything that’s required for safety – and they actually go out and are doing an assessment, listening to lung sounds, checking temperatures, and making sure people are stable,” Kutch said. “We do the swab and then send it off to our lab for testing.”
Once the clinic receives results, staffers call patients back to share their results.
Another part of the plan to help with a potential surge in cases is identifying space in the hospital as a “hot zone” where beds might be set up solely for people with COVID-19 and setting up a tent on the campus to serve as a “cold zone” for acutely ill people who do not have the virus.
In other parts of the Miles Campus, there have been changes to procedures at Cove’s Edge, a long-term care and rehabilitation center, and the LincolnHealth emergency room.
Misti Day, a nurse at Cove’s Edge, goes through screening every morning when she arrives for her shift. Someone takes her temperature and asks a series of questions about whether she has any symptoms of illness or has traveled anywhere recently.
Upon passing the screening, she takes a mask and heads in for her shift.
A new policy requires employees to wear a mask when within 6 feet of a co-worker or patient, which means nearly the entire shift.
Because Cove’s Edge has a high-risk population of elderly residents and residents with health issues, those precautions are important, Day said.
“We are doing everything that we can to protect ourselves and our residents as well, because it could be quite devastating if someone in the building were to get coronavirus,” she said.
Another major change at Cove’s Edge is the lack of visitors, currently barred from the facility. Day said the ban is a strain on families.
The activities director at the facility is using creative means to keep residents engaged, Day said.
Residents video chat with family members and have “window visits,” where visitors stand outside a window and talk on the phone to the resident.
People have brought dogs on window visits and even a llama, which stopped at every window.
Sarah Sutter, a nurse in the LincolnHealth emergency room, said there are now iPads in the room of every patient who they suspect may have COVID-19.
Patients use the iPads to tell nurses everything they need before the nurses go into their room, to limit nurses’ exposure.
“In the ER, every day is different anyway, but it’s to a whole new level,” Sutter said.
Nurses are taking additional precautions beyond those required.
Sutter opts to wear goggles in addition to her mask when she sees every patient.
All the nurses change out of their scrubs before they enter their homes after a shift, and many head right into the shower.
The nurses are feeling multiple emotions, including stress and hope. Some shared their fear of the unknown.
“I think we are all a little fearful of what could come, of what’s to come, but we are trying to keep each others’ spirits up,” Sutter said.
“We are planning worst-case scenarios, but we obviously don’t know what the full impact will be until this is all over,” Kutch said.
Like Sutter, Kutch said medical staff is staying “upbeat” and “hopeful.”
The nurses say there is a campus-wide spirit of teamwork, with everyone pitching in to help where needed.
“You don’t think twice about it because it’s what you signed up for,” Taylor said. She said it is hard to see other places, like New York City, in need of aid when she cannot help them.
Although she is on the front lines, Sutter feels grateful for her job when many others are signing up for unemployment.
“I think most of us feel grateful we have a job we are still coming to and it’s actually probably the most normal part of our lives at this moment, coming to work every day,” she said. “Sometimes that’s less stressful than dealing with what’s going on in the world.”