The emergency care center at Southeast Georgia Health System is a fast-paced
work environment — that much is reflected by the quick cadence of
R.N., and manager, Gina Copeland.
Copeland has been at the Health System for nine years with two years in
her current position, which requires her to be trained to handle patients
at any and every stage of their illness or injury, in addition to support
for her nursing staff.
“We utilize our nursing knowledge to have some quick thinking and
attention to detail,” Copeland said. “Routinely, we’d
see on average about 145-160 patients in a 24-hour period, working with
patients of all ages who have varying illnesses, diseases or injuries.”
Of course, in a spring plagued by the novel coronavirus, Copeland took
on additional responsibilities in overseeing her staff through a global pandemic.
A majority of Copeland’s day was suddenly dedicated to ensuring her
team had the proper personal protective equipment for any interaction,
ranging from an N-95 mask and face-shield to a full-body zip-up suit.
The need to provide proper PPE extended to patients to protect them from
any possible infection carried by health care workers as well as they
spend much of their day within close contact of carriers — many
of which are completely asymptomatic. Masks are worn by both staff and
patient in every encounter.
Copeland said her staff has been resilient rolling with the changing guidelines,
and she’s grateful for their ability to do so. She’s demonstrated
her gratitude by encouraging the staff to maintain an appropriate level
of work/life balance throughout the pandemic.
“If they want time off, we’ve given them time away,”
Copeland said. “We had a couple people who took an extended paid
time off because they had the hours to do so, and they just wanted to
take this time away to take care of things they needed to do at the house.”
With four children at home, including one that was in daycare, Copeland
and her husband know the importance of that time off.
Copeland also has children in seventh, ninth and 12th grades, and the ability
to step away from the job at times has helped her family overcome a foreign
“We worked it out between us so that I take time off, and then he
can take time off,” Copeland said. “It’s been a positive
in our life that we have jobs willing to let us take time away to help
take care of our kids, to help oversee their home-schooling and making
sure they’re getting their projects and assignments done and turned
But at the Health System, Copeland must act as an information pipeline
for her staff, keeping them updated on any changing policies and the results
of any suspected COVID patients they may have come in contact with.
Although Copeland hasn’t personally worked with any patients that
tested positive for COVID-19, she says her staff has been fairly upbeat
when they’ve received the news, confident they were properly protected.
“The overall experience from my staff, just in general because I’m
in charge of giving them that information, has been well-received,”
Copeland said. “They felt like they had been provided the equipment
they needed to protect themselves, and were given that on a daily basis,
so they weren’t afraid to see any patients, knowing the potential
may be they were positive when they saw them.
“So when they get the phone call that says, ‘Hey, you treated
a patient that was positive, were you wearing your PPE?’ ‘Oh,
yes, ma’am. I’ve been wearing it every day.’ They’ve
been relieved they have the proper equipment to take care of those patients,
and also relieved they got the results given to them to know there was
a confirmation of a positive or a negative.”
The community has also chipped in to take as much stress off health care
workers as they could during a time of need. A variety of local businesses,
organizations and residents have donated meals and other supplies.
“I even told my husband, the food’s been great, but I need
to self-isolate from the table,” Copeland joked. “Because
the gyms have been closed and my scrubs are getting tight.”
After about three weeks after being shutdown in a statewide order, Gov.
Brian Kemp gave the green light for businesses like gyms, bowling alleys,
barbers, and nail salons to reopen under certain guidelines April 24 with
restaurant dining rooms following a few days later. Although it hasn’t
affected her work in the emergency care center, the Health System has
also recently resumed elective surgeries.
Copeland isn’t too concerned about a surge as a result of loosening
restrictions, but she believes it’s important to be mindful of practicing
social distancing when possible.
“Yes, worried about it in a sense of, if people don’t continue
to maintain some social distancing, and practice some self-isolation in
certain positive ways,” Copeland said. “Do I think the beaches
opening up is a great idea? Yes. Go to beach. Get some sunshine. Be out
in the open air, in your family pods with the people you’ve been
enclosed at home with. Obviously, don’t co-mingle with others; practice
that social distancing. But just continue to cover your mouth, wash your
hands, protect yourself.”
According to the Coastal Health District, the number of positive COVID-19
cases in Glynn County climbed from 85 to 112 from Monday to Friday —
it had previously taken 20 days for the number of positive cases to increase
by the same amount.
But if the community remains as adaptable and resilient in dealing with
changing conditions as Copeland and her staff at the Health System, it
could turn out to just be a bump on the road back to normalcy.
“I would just like to say thank you to the community for their support,
and all of the positive responses that we’ve had to the changes
in the ER and just the Health System in general during this time,”