2020 is the International Year of the Nurse.
Though this campaign from the World Health Organization has been a year in the making, the theme is quite fitting. Nurses have perhaps never been more crucial and appreciated than they are right now.
In northeast Pennsylvania, the nursing staffs of Endless Mountains Health Systems (EMHS) in Montrose and Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock found themselves part of new COVID-19 task forces, meeting for daily briefings to face the challenges ahead of them.
“We just continue to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” said Kathy Savo, a medical surgical nurse at Tyler with 50 years of experience. “We have been working closer together as a team and coaching each other and taking more time to make sure all of our protection is in place.”
Other key figures coordinating efforts of 45 nurses at Tyler include Judy Ragukas, Chief Nursing Officer; Margaret Rogers, Director of Surgical Services; and Eric Wilbur, Manager of Medical Surgical Services and Interim Director of the emergency department.
The nursing staff at EMHS totals about 80, including 46 registered nurses (RN’s) led by Mary Mushala, Chief Nurse and Patient Safety Officer; Kristi Byham, Nurse Manager and medical surgical unit RN; and Connie Keifer, medical surgical unit and emergency department RN. Together they have 100 years of experience.
“Communication and teamwork are the key,” Keifer maintains, adding that it is complicated keeping up with ever changing recommendations from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH). Ragukas concurred that communications meetings address almost daily changes in protocol and adherence to both CDC and DOH guidelines.
Fortunately, neither hospital has been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, but staff members know that the tide could change during such an unpredictable pandemic. Supplies have held up to the needs of both facilities, Keifer and Wilbur noted, but Wilbur added that there were some anxious moments in the beginning ensuring that stock was adequate.
Masks are provided to every employee at EMHS on a daily basis, Mushala explained. Staff members are screened for COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive for work each day, as are patients and others entering the facility. At Tyler there have been modifications in the operating rooms, including more time between each use. Wilbur notes, one of the most difficult changes is not allowing guests at the hospital.
“That is hard for family and loved ones who can’t visit,” she stated. Consequently, hospital staff learn to lean more on each other and pass the power of those relationships on to everyone else.
“I think we are caring for patients with even more compassion,” Savo remarked. “We are a big family trying to get each other through it,” said Byham.
“Staff is updated. They feel safe, and they are not afraid to come to work.” Personnel at both medical facilities paused on May 6 to celebrate the beginning of National Nurses Week, which overlapped the beginning of National Hospital Week, which was observed through May 16. Mushala finds it fitting that those events coincide with the International Year of the Nurse at such a critical moment in history.
Nurses at both hospitals expressed their pride in their respective nursing teams during this time of uncertainty.