By Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, CEO/CNO for Blue Ridge Regional Hospital
Never has it been so important to recognize our nurses for their intellectually complex and emotionally demanding work, and to enthusiastically applaud them as they perform their sacred duties in the era of COVID-19. We face new uncertainties each day, but our caregivers live with them in a unique way. They unquestionably face greater risks than most of us, but do so without reservation.
This month we celebrate National Nurses Week (May 6-12). These specially designated days allow us to look to our Blue Ridge Regional Hospital (BRRH) nurses and all they do. As they continue to pour their hearts into their work here, despite ever-changing education and protocols pertaining to the virus, it has been beautiful to watch an even stronger camaraderie form among them.
We frequently update and educate our nursing team on the best practices for treating persons under investigation of having COVID-19 (PUI) and dealing with a potential patient surge. Since we now offer in-house testing, information flow is better and allows our nurses to know more quickly whether their patient has the virus, and how they should proceed with isolating them.
Because they give their hearts and minds to BRRH every day, we are doing all that we can to ensure that the hospital is a safe place to work for our nurses, which of course makes it a safer place for our patients, too. We have enacted universal masking, a no-visitors policy, and a screening protocol for everyone who enters the hospital. We are also taking employees’ temperatures before they enter.
We have created some new roles: patient and employee screeners (who ask a series of health-related questions of those who come into BRRH), and personal protective equipment (PPE) stewards, who help with safety and PPE conservation. These roles give any team member an opportunity to pick up hours they may have lost since we are not seeing as many patients here currently. HCA Healthcare has been extremely generous by paying all part-time and fulltime employees up to 70 percent of their income for pandemic pay. We also have one PPE steward who manages our protective gear inventory to ensure that it is available to everyone, and we have started an in-hospital scrubs laundering service. In order to protect the families of our nurses, they can shower here too, after they deposit their used scrubs and before they return home, to ensure their peace of mind.
Our cafeteria started a pop-up shop initiative where nurses and other providers can purchase grocery staples without going to the store, as well as premade dinners they can bring home after their shifts.
Our community members, businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions have supported the hospital and our nurses in so many ways too, from donating food, to providing needed encouragement. Our Board of Directors gave roses to all our team members recently also, to thank them and acknowledge all they do. The support our nurses and staff have received has been both practical and symbolic, and they do need both.
Since caregivers are often the last ones to think about caring for themselves, we have encouraged ours to take good care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. We shared a webinar opportunity with one of our behavioral health leaders to talk about mental health issues during this stressful time of isolation and dealing daily with the unknown. We also encourage team members to take advantage of our Employee Assistance Network, and the HCA Hope Fund that offers financial assistance to staff who are experiencing emergency hardships due to COVID-19.
National Hospital Week is this month too, from May 10-16, and I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that each and every team member at BRRH is contributing to our success at facing this very unwelcome enemy. Everyone has stepped up to work even more closely as a team, supported each other tremendously, and made BRRH ready for all patients. Special thanks go to our Environmental Services staff, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that every part of our hospital is sanitized and clean.
I have worked in healthcare for more than three decades and gained special experience in Quality Control and Infectious Diseases. What I am experiencing each day at BRRH, watching our heroic staff, fills me with pride and makes me so happy for our patients.
In gratitude to our staff and this community, I will end with the double hashtag I have been using lately, which defines the people and culture of BRRH so aptly: #BRRHHealthcareFamily, #TogetherWeServe. Whether we are enjoying a time of calm or one of upheaval, remember that we are honored to care for this community.
Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Hale is a proven leader with more than 32 years of progressive healthcare experience. A native of East Tennessee, she holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Walters State Community College, a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University, and a doctor of nursing practice degree in executive leadership from East Tennessee State University. Ms. Hale is currently a resident of Burnsville.