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Alice Hyde's Med-Surg Team Puts Patients First Through the Pandemic

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For the nurses, aides, clerks and providers of Alice Hyde’s Medical-Surgical floor, being there to provide compassionate care to patients and their loved ones isn’t just a job, it’s who they are. But like so many things, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how their daily mission looks and feels – both to patients and to them.

From temporarily suspending hospital visitation for many patients; to dividing the hospital’s first floor Med-Surg Unit to keep COVID patients separate from those who do not have the disease; Alice Hyde’s first floor Medical-Surgical Unit looks very different these days – but nothing has changed about the team’s commitment to putting patients first.

“I’ve had a long nursing career and I’ve seen a lot of things, but this is probably the worst,” said Pam Health, RN, who joined Alice Hyde full-time in 1980.

Heath, who as a nurse at Alice Hyde experienced the emergence of AIDS, called working through the COVID-19 pandemic a similar experience: feeling uncertainty and anxiety over how much is unknown about the disease they are facing, but also a deep commitment to support each other and their patients regardless of the challenges.

“We didn’t know what we were dealing with (when AIDS emerged), but we got through it,” she said. “And we’re going to get through this. I signed up to be a nurse a long time ago to take care of people, and that’s what I do.”

Caring for their patients, however, can feel very different, said Sue McElwain, RN, who has been with Alice Hyde since 2004. Because family members often cannot be close at hand due to visitation restrictions, members of the team can find themselves on the phone more often, seeking information and input from patients’ loved ones that will help them offer more comprehensive care. The pandemic can also limit their ability to offer a comforting touch or hug at a critical moment.

“COVID has, in many cases, taken away the personal touch that we can give as nurses,” said McElwain. “It’s a different level of how we communicate with our patients and (their) families.”

Even the little things that veteran nurses like Clare Robert, RN, take for granted have been thrown out-of-whack by COVID-19. Robert pointed out that the same Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that protects her and her team members can also dull the senses – not to mention how mentally exhausting it becomes just to don and doff full PPE day after day, for months at a time.

“You don’t realize how much you use all your senses to evaluate somebody,” said Robert. “It’s stressful. But at the end of the day we come together and work hard to get that stress level down.”

The pandemic’s challenges haven’t just brought the team closer together, but pushed them closer to their patients as well, said Brianna Brockway, RN, who has been with Alice Hyde for more than four years. She recalls one patient, an 89-year-old woman, who left the hospital after receiving inpatient care for nearly a month.

“She felt like family to us,” said Brockway. “She cried. We cried. She was so grateful for the care she got, and we were so happy to help her. It’s nice to help someone and see them get better and leave.”

A source of fierce pride for every team member is feedback they’ve received from patients and their families thanking them for providing a safe environment. A myriad of measures large and small – from masking, hand hygiene and proper PPE use, to the team’s ability to connect with patients and families despite the challenges posed by the pandemic – goes into achieving that safe environment.

“Even though they’re in the hospital and they know what’s going on in the community, patients and families feel safe,” said Brockway.

The group has also continued pulling together to make a positive impact on our community, taking up a collection among team members that raised nearly $400 for St. Andre Bessette Parish in Malone. The group donated the money to the parish’s holiday program that provides Christmas food baskets to the elderly, said Jill Benware, RN. 

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