Around this time last year, Diana Cameron, RRT, was gearing up for a spike
in COVID-19 cases. As a respiratory therapist and manager of
Cardiopulmonary Services at the Southeast Georgia Health System Camden Campus, she played a pivotal
role. Working alongside her team, she tracked down medical supplies and
converted three hospital areas into isolation rooms for COVID-19 patients.
As the team rushed to prepare, a co-worker said, “It’s like
waiting for a category 5 hurricane.” Thinking back on the experience
Cameron says, “It was the perfect analogy.”
The 40-bed community hospital and its respiratory therapists were preparing
to face a formidable foe. “Covid put respiratory therapy in the
spotlight. Before then, most people didn’t know what we did,”
Cameron says. Today, the public knows that these medical professionals
fought a daily battle against a deadly respiratory disease. Respiratory
therapists literally help people breathe, not only with the ventilators
we heard so much about, but in other ways. “We started patients
out with high-flow nasal cannulas, then progressed to BiPAP machines and
finally, ventilators if needed. Getting supplies was a challenge. We worked
closely with the Brunswick Campus, sending supplies back and forth.”
The team worked together with several other Health System departments to
prepare rooms for the influx of patients. When Surgical Services discontinued
outpatient procedures to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE)
and to also reduce the risk of a viral spread, Cameron coordinated with
the hospital’s Facilities staff and nurse managers to convert the
space into a COVID-19 unit. Sections of the Emergency Care Center and
medical-surgical services soon followed.
Glenn Gann, R.N., MSN, vice president and administrator, Camden Campus,
greatly appreciates Cameron and her team for their dedication. “Diana
and the respiratory therapy team managed many more patients than usual,
and the patients were much sicker than normal. The team provided excellent
and compassionate care under challenging circumstances,” Gann says.
A Heartbreaking Scene
With the vaccine rollout and corresponding dip in cases, Cameron has had
time to reflect. “I’ve been in health care for 33 years and
I work with seasoned therapists and radiology staff. We’ve never
seen anything like this. There’s no rhyme or reason to COVID-19.
Young people die from it and some 102-year-old people survive.”
Struggling to manage a disease for which there were no reliable treatments
took a toll on her department. “My staff were physically and mentally
exhausted. We were often the last face patients saw before they passed.
We even had several members of one family die.” Although families
told her, “We know you did everything you could,” the highly
contagious virus meant families could not be with their loved ones when
they passed. For Cameron and her team, it was heartbreaking.
And yet, they kept fighting. “All of my people stuck with us. We
were in it together. I couldn’t imagine doing this with any other
team.” Her gratitude extends to other Health System team members,
too. “From the Environmental Services staff to managers and frontline
workers, no one job was more important than another,” she says.
Leading by Example
Knowing they were in it together made it difficult when Cameron became
sick with COVID-19 in July 2020. “It was hard to sit home and watch
the numbers go up.” Her coughing was so severe, she could not use
an inhaler, but she kept thinking, “I’ve got to get better
so I can help.”
The Health System isn’t just a workplace for Cameron. As a longtime
employee, she echoes the feelings expressed by many of her peers. “We’re
not just co-workers, we’re family. Our patients are family, too.”
The pandemic imposed significant sacrifices on every Health System department
and employee. “Diana has been a tremendous leader and calming influence
for her entire team throughout the pandemic. I am very grateful for her
guidance not only then, but now too,” says Gann.
As difficult as the last year and a half has been, there are positive takeaways.
“We all learned a lot. We’ve seen what’s worked and
what hasn’t and we’re more prepared. The vaccine is helping,
too. We saw fewer cases after this year’s Memorial Day holiday than
we did after New Year’s and Christmas,” shares Cameron.
While she’s cautiously optimistic, Cameron reminds us, “We
need to live our lives, but let’s live them safely and carefully.
COVID-19 is real; it’s still out there.”
The message is clear. Get vaccinated, and if you cannot for whatever reason,
continue wearing a mask. “For those who’ve had the mind set
of ‘wait and see’ when it comes to getting the vaccine, now
is the time to stop waiting. It’s time to protect yourself and your
community,” says Gann.
Southeast Georgia Health System offers COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines for all
individuals age 12 and older. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins
are accepted. To learn more or to make an appointment, visit