At Witham Hospital Services, nurses and other front-line health care workers have adapted through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the community has supported them along the way.
The Boone County-based hospital system has received more than 100 donations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic from individuals, families and businesses ahead of May 12, International Nurses Day.
Georgetta Hinkle, the clinical director of the Witham med search department, has assumed the additional role of a staffing coordinator during the pandemic, along with another Witham employee. They ensure there are employees at doors to take temperatures, that everyone has masks and that patients get to where they need to go.
Hinkle has three children and said she is “incredibly close to her family.” She went six weeks without seeing them but recently got to see some of her grandchildren while following social-distancing guidelines.
“I have never gone that period of time without seeing my family,” Hinkle said.
Witham, like virtually all hospital systems, has enacted strict visitation restrictions. She said the memories of seeing patients, some gravely ill, alone in the hospital would stick with her “forever.”
Another difficult aspect for Hinkle has been watching nurses in her department, her “teammates,” log long hours in hot personal protective equipment and watching as the emotional toll of caring for critically ill patients mounts.
“We’re all kind of working this thing together and we all just wear a different hat,” Hinkle said. “But we are all here for the same purpose, and that is to get through all of this safely with the least amount of casualties and trying to keep each other safe.”
Rena Zenarosa, a Witham ED medical director and EMS medical co-director, said despite the long hours and personal sacrifices (she hasn’t seen her mother for weeks who lives on the same street) she still finds it difficult to accept being called a hero.
“I feel grateful that I’m able to serve in this position,” Zenarosa said. “I mean, it’s everything you train for your entire life. In some ways, I almost feel that, although I appreciate the outpouring of support, I don’t know if I really, truly deserve it because it’s really what we signed up for. This is the oath we took.”
Rebecca Bradley, the clinical director of Witham’s emergency department, said she typically knows how many patients to expect in her department each day and how to care for them. But the pandemic has changed that.
“It has really thrown us into a strategizing daily event,” Bradley said. “It’s constantly a Rubik’s Cube, and it just gets figured out. We have people who are so flexible and fluid within their position. That’s what makes us work. It’s so humbling to see what the community has done for this hospital.
“The team we have in this emergency room is truly one of the best teams, not only based off of their knowledge and experience, but the amount of heart and care and compassion they have for the patients and the families. I couldn’t do my job for anybody else.”
Annette Preston, the director the Witham Health Services Foundation, said the pandemic has been like nothing she has ever seen. The hospitals are quiet. Everyone has their temperature taken before entering facilities and wears personal protective equipment at all times. But she said the level of community donations of masks, face shields, leggings, food and coupons has also been unique.
“What has been the most comforting and the most amazing has actually been our community,” Preston said. “The donations are great. The food is great. It’s a huge boost, but it’s a whole different story when you go outside from work, and you’ve been in full PPE for eight hours, and you walk into the parking lot, and there’s a prayer chain, and people are clapping and calling you heroes. Or you go to get in your car, and right there at your car is a ‘Thank you for all you do. ‘
“Those are the things that make you truly realize the type of community we live in.”