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COVID-19’s Year in Review: What we learned in the last 10 months

  • Category: COVID-19
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COVID-19’s Year in Review: What we learned in the last 10 months

When COVID-19 arrived in the United States, little was known about the virus or its implications. In the last 10-plus months, healthcare professionals have garnered much greater understanding. Healthcare systems such as Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS) have modified their practices to adapt to COVID-19’s challenges not just for the care of their patients, but also the safety of their staff.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Delgado and Spencer, click here.

For example, a number of the departments within SVMHS are working remotely. The health system has also implemented important stress-relieving measures.

“We've introduced tranquility rooms available to all the staff, just to give them some quiet time and a break from work,” says Pete Delgado, President/CEO of Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System. “Psychologists are now proactively rounding on the nursing units to talk to staff, to help them through some of their challenges on the unit and at home.”

Spiritual providers and counseling services are available for staff as well. All of these supplemented services support an effort to build resilience among healthcare workers. “Unfortunately, once patients are hospitalized and on ventilators the mortality rate is very high,” adds Carla Spencer, RN, Associate Chief Nursing Officer. “We often see people die, and it wears on staff. We have these patients in house for many weeks and the staff get attached. It's a very difficult thing.”

The Unpredictability of Infection

While there’s been a lot of learning surrounding COVID-19, it remains unpredictable in many ways. “We've had patients in their thirties on ventilators and patients in their eighties on ventilators. It's very difficult to pinpoint one specific group. We just don't know, unfortunately, who is going to come in the door and who is going to do worse than someone else,” explains Spencer.

Another uncertainty revolves around asymptomatic transmission which can turn devastating for friends and family members. It’s understandable that people want to see loved ones, but it’s a risk Spencer and Delgado urge people not to take.

Community Outreach Efforts Prove Effective

Throughout the pandemic, SVMHS has participated in various outreach programs to ensure community members are getting any help they need. The system established an educational initiative geared towards essential agricultural workers, deploying nurses and clinicians out to the fields to teach safety measures for both work and home. Social media communication also played a significant role in keeping the community informed.

“We've done a lot in the community, which we're very proud of. I think it made a big difference,” shares Delgado.

Preparing for a Post-Holiday Surge

A post-holiday uptick is expected following Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital already has strategies in place to address a potential surge. A fourth COVID-19 unit has been added. Spencer and her colleagues are also mitigating a staffing shortage by utilizing non-ICU nurses from other departments who possess ICU skills. Some nurses have even come out of retirement to contribute to the cause.

“We've done a lot of work with the leaders and the staff so we're ready if it does continue to explode the way it is now. Just taking a very proactive approach; foreseeing that we are going to get more patients and be ready as best we can,” she assures.

The final piece of the preparation puzzle, per Delgado, is communication. “We have to be ready to expand, because all signs are pointing that way. Communication is the number one priority for all of our employees. We have to be able to convey a well thought through implementation plan that's safe for them and safe for our patients.”

There Is Light at the End of the Pandemic Tunnel

Despite the challenges, the attitude at SVMHS has been one of confidence and hope. Delgado, Spencer, and other leaders have focused on supporting staff in every way possible and it shows.

“I keep telling our staff, ‘we've got this.’ This is a challenge, professionally, but we've all trained for this. That's why we became a professional nurse, a medical doctor, a lab technician, a lab scientist. We know what we need to do. We just need to make sure everyone is supporting each other and working as a team. And we're creating a safe environment in which they feel comfortable working and doing what they know best,” notes Delgado.

“I've been a nurse almost 25 years, and I've never been more proud to be a nurse and more proud to work with the team I do, the frontline staff and the leaders of this hospital,” adds Spencer. “When we started with COVID, we didn't know at all what was ahead of us. Looking back to where we started and where we are now, it is a very proud moment. I'm proud to work for this organization. I'm proud to be a registered nurse, and I'm confident that we will get through it.”

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