Michelle Canonica, RN, CMSRN, OCN, Clinical Coordinator, MS2 – Jefferson Washington Township Hospital

This memory is burnt into my mind and feels like it happened just yesterday, even though it has been several months already. I remember coming into work one morning in mid-March. I looked at the board and our census was so low that the nurses had three to four patients apiece and I was a free charge. I had to look twice because I couldn’t believe it after being used to being so busy for months prior. There was news of a novel coronavirus outbreak that was finally setting in as being something serious to worry about. We were watching Italy and New York on the news in the days prior and fearing our own futures. To add insult to injury, we learned that there was a national shortage of PPE. I remember sitting at the nurses’ station talking to my coworkers and everyone was saying how they hoped we wouldn’t get any COVID patients on our floor. I remember talking about how we would keep ourselves safe by taking extra vitamins or wearing caps on our hair since we would not be using the full hazmat-like suits we saw healthcare workers wearing everywhere else in the world.

We went all day without having a patient admitted and our Nurse Manager and Educator said goodbye for the day and said to call if we needed anything. Then, as Murphy’s Law would have it, an admission dropped into our queue and it was a PUI (person under investigation). Our hearts sank as we all looked at the screen. The silence on the floor was deafening for that moment. I looked around and saw all of my junior coworkers with fear in their eyes. I knew they were all scared to death about this virus because of our conversations earlier that day. We were lucky though because behind the scenes our leadership team had been working together to create kits that had everything we needed to set up a COVID room. I called my Nurse Manager and Educator to let them know we were getting a PUI and, to my surprise, both of them turned around and came back to the hospital to help us set up the room and prepare for this patient to come to our unit.

Now came the time to assign the patient. After hearing everyone else’s fears all day, I couldn’t lose it now and I couldn’t give this patient to another nurse who already had an assignment. I felt a call to duty and I had the support behind me so I could feel confident that I was protected. The Nurse Manager, Educator and Corporate Director came to help me don my PPE. They went over the use of the iPad and we worked together to take care of this patient who needed our help. As the days followed, we saw more and more patients come to the floor. Before we knew it, we were the official COVID unit for the hospital. We ran like a well-oiled machine after that day and provided the care that so many needed. If it wasn’t for the leadership and education we had behind us, I don’t know if we would have been as prepared as we were for this crisis. I felt able to “take one for the team,” because of the leadership and education provided that day. We were on the frontlines of this battle, but if not for the support of all the people behind us, we never would have been able to accomplish what we did.

Nicole Ervin, RN, MSN, CMSRN, Nurse Manager – Jefferson Washington Township Hospital

Michelle was so calm and confident as we suited her up to go into the room. She was behind a large fire panel door with no windows, all alone. Feeling helpless, we stood outside the door for what seemed like an eternity. I felt like I had sent my firstborn off to war.

She not only showed courage and leadership that day, but it was a profound moment for every novice nurse who was on the floor that day. Fast-forward several days later, we would be a full COVID medical-surgical floor for several months. During this time, just nursing was permitted into the rooms, and the ancillary staff such as patient care techs would station themselves outside the rooms ready to pass in supplies to the nurses or whatever was needed. The unit secretaries would assist and man the call bell system, asking the patients what they would need when the nurses would come into the room to cluster care. The unit educator was the safety officer assisting staff to don and doff PPE properly and educate on the new medications that were given to COVID patients.

As a unit manager, my role had changed. I was to take care of my staff. I oversaw obtaining PPE supplies and other items such as headbands with buttons to take the mask strings pressure off the staff ears. I was in charge of checking on everyone’s mental and physical health. Making sure they got adequate breaks and a safe place to take off their masks and eat. The unit turned into more like a home. A dressing area to take off your hospital clothes before you left, we planted floors on our patio and furniture for staff to eat out there, and even a lounge area that served as a respite room for staff. Our team got through it and it made us even closer.

As a nurse manager, I felt like George Washington in that iconic scene, leading his team into battle across the Delaware. What a time to be a nurse!