By Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA
We owe all frontline healthcare workers a huge debt of gratitude for their selfless devotion to their patients, willingness to risk contracting the COVID-19 virus themselves or bringing it home to their families, and amazing ability to adapt expertly to the ever-changing realities that the virus constantly presented. Since we celebrate National Nurses Month and National Nurses Week (this year it’s May 6-12) each May, I’m used to focusing on how grateful I am to the nurses of the facilities I’ve spent my career serving, but this year, I can’t help but salute the extraordinary nursing staff of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH) and the Eckerd Living Center (ELC) in an even more emphatic way.
There’s no question that what all healthcare providers have given over the last year, during the pandemic, is inestimable. They’ve risked their own health to continue caring for patients who suffered with a disease that was, often, as mystifying as it was frightening. This type of courage is a hallmark of every dedicated nurse I have known, it’s at their core, which is why many couldn’t think of doing any other kind of work. That said, this pandemic has stretched our nurses to their physical and mental limits. In that way, it has been an exhausting and discouraging time for nurses, and many are at risk for burnout.
At HCH, we’re working to do our part in not only honoring our nurses in May, but supporting them all year round by creating a workplace that respects their expertise and supports their professional growth. We’re also invested in proactively bringing young people who are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare into the field. To that end, we offered a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) accelerated five-week training program right here at the hospital in March, and we plan to offer a second one in July. The details are still getting finalized, but check our website and Facebook page for more information this month.
Another exciting thing about the CNA training program is that we can offer students full-time employment with benefits while they are being trained, and continued employment once they pass the exam at the end of the course.
The other important update that’s great news for our community is that our new 3D mammogram machine is now operational, and we’re proud to be able to offer women the most advanced type of mammogram services available. The technology is superior to traditional mammograms because it enhances the visibility of tumors, and also allows radiographers to interpret the mammograms of women with dense breast tissue more easily. About 40% of women have some breast density, while 10% have very dense breasts, which makes it harder for tumors to be identified.
It’s also important for women to know that the COVID-19 vaccine has been known to cause lymph node tenderness and swelling in the armpits of some women, which is also a breast cancer indicator. Experts are advising that women wait to have their mammogram until several weeks after their second vaccines, but since mammograms are such vital screenings, it’s wise to talk to your doctor about how best to time your mammogram around your vaccine.
I hope the community joins me in recognizing the profound dedication, strength, and compassion that defines our exceptional nurses. They have truly gone “above and beyond” as we’ve faced this historic pandemic, like never before. With the vaccine now available to us, I’m happy to say that we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and our nurses deserve our heartfelt thanks for their very real sacrifices.
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.