Speaking on behalf of the leadership team at Northern Westchester Hospital, Cathy Manley-Cullen, MS, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer at NWH, offered a heartwarming account of the commitment and camaraderie she is witnessing amongst the hospital’s nursing staff-over 500 full and part time nurses serve some dozen or more departments and units-as they navigate a public health emergency due to COVID-19.
“They couldn’t be more willing to jump in and do whatever they can,” said Manley-Cullen.
“They are incredibly inspiring and positive the way they are supporting each other too, rotating on different units that they maybe didn’t work on previously–just to give everyone a little respite,” she said. “They are doing all of this while everyone is trying to just lead their lives… like everyone else, the children are home; we have to do homeschooling and a host of other things.”
Derek Anderson, executive director, Northern Westchester Hospital relayed that as of April 1, 2020, the hospital is actively treating approximately 55 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, with approximately 20 more being ruled out. Many more have been treated in our Emergency Department, but did not require hospitalization, and are recovering from the virus at home.
Manley-Cullen described the atmosphere as being one of a spirit of cooperation with nurses generously helping their fellow nurses where they are needed most. “The nurses are working on different units that they don’t typically work on all the time. “Maybe a nurse on the 7th floor telemetry unit ( a critical care area) or from the OR (operating room) or ambulatory surgery unit (which are all seeing fewer patients right now) are helping out more on floors where nurses are seeing more patients with COVID-19.
This is also not the first and will likely not be the last time nurses find themselves on the frontlines of a public health emergency. “There’s been quite a few public health crises over the years, and nursing and health care in general is no stranger to crises, whether it’s hurricanes or infectious diseases; we plan for this, always, so we can be prepared as possible.”
Three new phone lines are being made available too. The first, a line for employees “who maybe don’t feel well themselves,” said Manley-Cullen. A second line is for the community at large-for anyone seeking information about COVID-19. Finally, the hospital is “in the process of setting up a ‘Wellness’ line for employees who wish to talk through issues.”
“The nurses are also busy connecting with family members because right now visitors are not allowed in the hospital. We are also making sure we call and speak to family, and giving not only updates about their loved ones, but also just being available for them and their well-being and anything they may be struggling with.”
“We are not seeing staff overwhelmed,” emphasized Manley-Cullen. “What we are seeing is an incredibly positive attitude. A lot of that has to do with the great resources we have available here at NWH which is part of Northwell, a much bigger healthcare system. At this juncture, she said, supplies are plentiful, and nurses and all healthcare staff have the personal protective equipment they need. “It’s a big burden if you’re worrying about your equipment or if you’re safe. That’s just not the case here.”
Every recovery is a reason for optimism. One patient offered this testimonial: “I was just discharged last night from Northern Westchester Hospital after four nights. I am an unlikely survivor of COVID-19 being 73 1/2 with asthma and just having recently had a stroke. I was overwhelmed by the competence and caring of your staff who did all they could to attend to me and make me comfortable. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. Thanks, E.P.”
In the meantime, the hospital remains very much open to serving patients no matter what their medical concern, too. “We want people to understand that if they need to come to the hospital, or if they’re sick, they should,” said Manley-Cullen. “We don’t want people to be fearful of coming to the hospital or staying home if they have a legitimate medical concern or alarming sign, such as chest pain, that they need to have addressed. We are still caring for people whatever their needs may be.”
Manley-Cullen also acknowledged the “incredible support from the community to support the nursing staff.” People are donating food. Restaurants are delivering food. People are sending messages and encouraging video clips. Nurses are staying in touch with each other on social media. School children have been drawing pictures for our team. We have a wall filled with pictures the school kids have drawn to say thank you. Everyone just wants to help in any way they can.”
The community’s warm outpouring has helped the staff feel really supported. “People are wearing masks so it’s hard to get facial expressions, but they are smiling. You can tell by their eyes!”