By Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, CEO/CNO for Highlands-Cashiers Hospital
Our community – like communities around the world – is reeling in response to the impact of COVID-19 and all the changes it has brought to how we live. There are many unanswered questions, too: How should we best maintain our physical and mental health as we also experience the physical separation that social distancing and sheltering in place require? What will our “new normal” look like when we come out of this pandemic?
It’s easy to craft questions pertaining to this virus, about which we learn new things virtually every day, but one group of people doesn’t have the luxury to simply ponder these issues: the exceptional staff here at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH) and the Eckerd Living Center (ELC). The dedicated professionals from every department of our facility pivoted quickly to adapt to great change, yet they’ve remained steadfast in their devotion to our patients and each other.
Early on, my leadership team and I united around one goal: to keep our staff safe throughout this time while we realize our mission of caring for our patients and community with competence and compassion. We’re fortunate because to our knowledge, there has not been a significant volume of suspected or established COVID-19 patients in our community. However, this doesn’t mean the risk doesn’t still exist. In order to address our risk level, no matter where it settles on any given day, it’s critical that our staff is educated and prepared for treating COVID-19 patients, and they are.
I want our community to know that everything they’re experiencing out in the world, we’re experiencing here at the hospital. For example, social distancing has impacted all of us emotionally. Our caregivers miss having patients’ families visit, especially at the ELC, and can’t wait until the time that they can return. Since our facility includes both the hospital and one of the hardest hit types of care centers during this pandemic – long term care facilities – we’re especially vigilant about maintaining stringent safety practices.
It’s timely also that this month we celebrate our caregiver heroes and heroines during National Nurses Week and National Hospital Week, from May 6-12 and May 10-16, respectively. Our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, technologists, technicians, and aides who care for our patients are extraordinary and selfless in the best of times, but this year they’ve outdone themselves.
I also want to acknowledge the work of all of multiple departments in the hospital whose support personnel may not directly care for patients, but who nevertheless sustain the care we deliver. For example, our Food Services staff continues to prepare and deliver meals to patients and staff, and our dedicated Environmental Services staff ensures that every space and surface of our hospital is scrupulously clean and safe. Every team member deserves praise for continuing to come to work, despite knowing the risks related to COVID-19. All of the staff have risked coming into harm’s way — thereby putting their families at higher risk too. They are dedicated and deserve our thanks.
Our local leaders and the community have also stepped up to follow the practices we know are keeping us safer, and I’m very appreciative of this as well. As the saying goes, it takes a village.
I’m a positive thinker, but we must adopt a troubleshooting mentality in this situation; I call this approach “productive paranoia,” and there’s never a better time for it than strategizing response to a pandemic. Preparation is key to keeping our hospital and community safe. Some primary responses include diligently screening everyone who walks through our doors – patients and staff alike – to minimize exposure, and ensuring that we have ample personal protective equipment (PPE).
Our staff has also engaged in cross-training efforts so if it becomes necessary, they can perform a job in another area of HCH, like the Emergency Department. Our plans also included the addition of a tent to add auxiliary space for the ED. Given we did not see the surge in COVID-19 in our community, we’ve taken down the tent. However, we can quickly stand it back up in case our ED was to experience a surge.
Finally, from Day One, HCA Healthcare’s leadership and support has been outstanding and we’re fortunate to be part of this network. We’ve learned much about treating COVID-19 patients from HCA Healthcare markets that were hit hard by the virus, like our hospitals on the West Coast, and being an HCA Healthcare hospital meant that we were ahead of the curve with implementing practices and assuring access to key supplies.
Please remember that I feel a deep responsibility to make our community and our staff feel safe and cared for, especially during these exceptional times. We will weather this storm, learn a tremendous amount from it, and grow together. I’m grateful to every one of our team members for their fortitude, commitment, and selflessness. Thank you for allowing us to care for you.
Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. Neal is a proven leader with more than 30 years of progressive healthcare experience. Prior to his role at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, he held the position of Chief Executive Officer of Community Health Systems (CHS) and served as Chief Executive Officer of both Berwick Hospital Center in Berwick, Pennsylvania, and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Ronceverte, West Virginia. Tom has an MBA from the University of Louisville, MHA from the California College of Health Sciences, BSN from Regents College of New York and an ADN from Jefferson Community College.