Mission Hospital McDowell’s Corps of Nurses Adapts to New COVID-19 Challenges, without Compromising the Care of Their Patients

Carol WolfenbargerBy Carol Wolfenbarger, RN, BSN, MSN, FACHE, CEO for Mission Hospital McDowell

The team of nurses at Mission Hospital McDowell (MHM) is truly outstanding, but these past couple months, they’ve maintained this level of excellence — going far above and beyond — as we’ve navigated our way through the swift and often baffling arrival of COVID-19. They acclimated themselves instantly to many new safety and treatment protocols, stepping up in all ways for our patients. We celebrate National Nurses Week from May 6-12, and I welcome this opportunity to recognize these extraordinarily resilient individuals.

The nurses of MHM are the first line of care here, especially for our inpatients and ER patients. Pre-COVID-19 as well as in this new world, they fuse the clinical knowledge and technological proficiency needed for successful patient care with a hard-to-quantify but irreplaceable necessity: heartfelt compassion.

There’s no question our nurses would be at the forefront of any COVID-19-fueled patient surge, which is why early on, we engaged in rigorous preparation for how we’d provide care to these patients. The training period has been short and intense for our nurses, and our clinical nurse educators have worked around the clock to educate our team on everything from how to properly put on and take off personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid cross-contamination, to the specifics about caring for patients in isolation with serious symptoms.

Our nurses haven’t flinched as they’ve continued caring for our patients with the same commitment as before, despite being screened for the virus each time they enter the hospital, having a universal masking policy enacted here, and facing a virus we know too little about. We’ve listened to our nursing team’s concerns about caring for persons under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19 because we know everyone goes home to a family of their own.

Our nurses act as surrogate family for our patients as well, especially now. They’ve adapted to our no-visitors policy by connecting patients to their families via iPad technology so patients can continue to get the very real therapeutic benefits of these interactions.

As we prepared for a possible patient surge as a result of COVID-19, which we thankfully have not seen, our patient census and the need for nurses was reduced in other hospital departments. We’ve responded by shifting our resources accordingly. Our nurses welcomed this too, and now at times work outside their areas of expertise, including serving as screeners and patient sitters.

With real-time interactions coming to a standstill, our use of telehealth has risen quickly. While this advanced technology allows our patients access to pulmonary, infectious disease, and other specialists, the work of a nurse will never be virtual. 100 percent of the care our nurses provide is one-on-one and in-person, at the bedside.

While we have moved away from the intense preparatory phase for dealing with the potential spread of the virus, we continue to monitor the situation closely with our local health department and state officials. Our team continues to be here to care for you and as information updates occur, our team will receive training updates. They’re more than up for it, as you can imagine, because they don’t let anything get in the way of caring for their patients — not even the Coronavirus.

I can’t imagine navigating this period without the support we’ve had as part of HCA Healthcare. Aside from ensuring that we had enough personal protective equipment and ventilators, they have enabled us to provide pandemic pay of 70 percent base pay to staff members’ who did not have work to do during this COVID-19 impact on operations. Truly, our company cares for our team members and knows that hopefully in the near future, when we return to normal operations, we will need these team members to continue their work. I’m very grateful to McDowell County Emergency Operations and our city and county officials for their leadership and support in keeping our community safe, along with the special treats and cards sent to us with thoughts and prayers from the community.

While nursing comprises the majority of our team members and is the foundation of our hospital services, they know as well as I that the entire team of healthcare workers is key to our work and success. So, while we began our celebrations on May 6th for National Nurses Week, we will keep the party going next week as we celebrate National Hospital Week from May 10-16. I am grateful to every member of our team for the teamwork and resilience they’ve demonstrated during this uniquely challenging time.


Carol Wolfenbarger, RN, BSN, MSN, FACHE, is CEO for Mission Hospital McDowell. She holds both Bachelors and Masters of Science degrees in nursing administration from the University of Tennessee, is board certified in Healthcare Management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Carol, who has served hospitals and health systems for more than three decades, has worked to add full-time cardiology services, led growth in outpatient services including imaging and surgery, and the expansion of primary care offering in Burke County since assuming her role as President at McDowell Hospital in 2015. She is an active member in Rotary and serves as a Board member for the Rutherford/Polk/McDowell Health District Board of Directors, the Corpening YMCA Board of Directors, and the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

For more information about Mission Hospital McDowell, click here [1].