There are days when Shelly McKinney, R.N., feels more like a battle commander
than a nurse manager. With each new work day, she huddles with her team
to face another hectic 12 hours. McKinney and her team care for patients
in the COVID-19 unit of Southeast Georgia Health System’s 4 St.
Simons Tower. While not intensive care, these patients are sicker and
require more monitoring and intervention than most hospital patients.
“COVID patients can turn in an hour,” McKinney says. Her co-workers
agree. Sandy Quinn, R.N. shares, “We’ve seen so many tragedies
and multiple family members dying.” Macey Floyd, R.N., says the
challenge strengthens the nurses’ bond. “We celebrate victories
and mourn losses together.”
The nurses of 4 St. Simons are no strangers to seriously ill patients.
In April 2020, the Health System transitioned the nursing staff from the
oncology unit to the COVID unit. The oncology patients, which tend to
be immunocompromised, were moved to another unit for their safety.
As any frontline hero will tell you, the last year was the hardest of their
career. What motivates them to return to work, day after difficult day?
“Nursing can be tough physically and emotionally, but also rewarding.
You see the impact of your work with patients. Being there for patients
in all aspects of their journey is the most meaningful part of the job,”
To help protect patients, team members and the community from exposure
to coronavirus, the Health System temporarily suspended hospital visitors.
Nurses bridge the communication gap between patients and family members,
by relaying messages and using an iPad for FaceTime video calls.
Prioritization is paramount when caring for COVID-19 patients. Nurses
must “gown up” head to toe in protective gear and organize
medications and equipment before setting foot in a patient’s room.
“We work as a cohesive team, partnering with CNAs to bathe patients,
change sheets, and empty trash,” Quinn says.
A Fierce Dedication
Caring for people infected with a highly contagious, potentially deadly
virus requires a passion for patient care. McKinney’s team is up
to the task. “They are such advocates. They don’t hesitate
when it comes to calling providers, rapid responses and codes when the
patient’s condition changes. They’re always thinking of patients.
When nurses must quarantine at home, they ask, ‘Who’s going
to take care of my patients?’”
Leaning on Each Other
Staying strong for patients is not easy. McKinney recalls a patient hoping
to see her grandchild’s birth. “She laid her head on the nurse’s
chest, cried and said, ‘Please don’t let me die.’”
Unfortunately, nothing more could be done, and the patient passed. “There’s
not a day when someone on our team hasn’t cried. We all lean on
each other. My office is a safe space for them to vent, cry, take a deep
breath, and go back out there,” describes McKinney.
Floyd credits her “health care family” with supporting her
through the pandemic. “We’re all going through this together.”
Camaraderie makes all the difference to Quinn, too. “We genuinely
care about each other and check on each other often.” As the pandemic
drags on, nurses across the country are exhausted. “People feel
frustrated and want to quit. My team is such a solid work family, though.
We tell each other, ‘You’re a link in the chain. You can’t
leave. We need you,’” says McKinney.
Throughout the struggles, the nurses still find time to laugh and smile.
Random acts of kindness – from thank you notes to gifts of food
– ease the burden, as do appreciative patients. “Our patients
have been wonderful,” McKinney says. Her team feels supported by
the Health System’s proactive approach to stocking personal protective
equipment (PPE) and concern shown by hospitalist James A. Hula, M.D. “He
is our backbone. He is not only for the patients, he always asks every
team member how they are,” shares McKinney.
An army will follow a leader it admires no matter how strenuous the battle.
McKinney often stays late and arrives early to work, bakes cakes and buys
lunch for the nurses. “I do any little thing I can to support them,
and let them know how greatly they are appreciated.”
Words to the Wise
While determined to win the war against COVID-19, these frontline veterans
admit to pandemic fatigue. Bringing the virus home to family members is
a constant worry. Being unable to socialize with friends outside of work
makes McKinney feel isolated, but she believes in avoiding large gatherings.
“We’ve seen an uptick in COVID cases after each holiday. The
more diligent the public is with masks, handwashing and vaccinations,
the quicker they’ll be able to see older relatives without fear.”
Meanwhile, Floyd says the nurses of 4 St. Simons Tower will carry on, for
however long it takes. “We’re here for you and your family.
We will take care of you to the best of our ability. Stay strong, protect
yourself and others so we can get on the other side of this.”
To support your nurses and community hospital, call the Southeast Georgia
Health System Foundation at 912-466-3360.