Honoring our healthcare heroes two years into the COVID-19 pandemic
As we reflect on the two-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Colorado, Good Samaritan Medical Center would like to recognize the dedication and sacrifice of our healthcare providers during this incredibly difficult time. The strain and stress from living and working through the pandemic, along with unprecedented pressures due to an increase in the numbers of patients and the challenges resulting from labor shortages have created immense pressures.
The compassion and care you’ve displayed during each interaction with patients and each other is remarkable. All of our caregivers and associates are truly extraordinary people working in extraordinary times, and we want you to know how much you are loved and appreciated.
Tracy George is one of these people. She has been a CNA/Unit Assistant at Good Samaritan for 17 years. She worked on the 5th floor as a CNA/Unit Assistant for 15 years, then switched to the observation unit, and now works in the pre-surgical unit as the Unit Secretary. Tracy began her master’s program studying nutrition in January 2020, but unfortunately her dream was deferred due to the pandemic.
The observation unit was supposed to have a lighter patient volume, but then COVID-19 hit. In March 2020, Tracy took care of Yadeira, the second patient at Good Samaritan, and one of the first in the state of Colorado, to receive a positive test result for the virus. The diagnosis shocked everyone at the time and was life-changing for Yadeira and her family. She had been discharged after coming in for something unrelated and was remitted, unknowingly with COVID-19. She spent six weeks on a ventilator in the ICU, with doctors and nurses taking care of her around the clock.
In these early days, people were just beginning to hear about the virus. Very few alarm bells were going off, however, that quickly changed.
Yadeira was the beginning of the nightmare that was about to unfold. Once the pandemic went into full force, Good Samaritan closed multiple units but had to open them back up, while moving patients around the hospital when the virus started rapidly spreading at an uncontrollable level.
“Nurses did not know how to treat COVID-19 since it was new to everyone and the rules were always changing,” said Tracy. “The only previous practice we could implement was standard precautions, which included hand washing, gloves and gowns. We also added eye protection shields, which are generally used when an airborne disease is permissible.”
In the beginning, Tracy and the other nurses were required to wear procedure masks. After the nationwide mask shortage, volunteer staff sewed homemade masks for them. Then, those caring for COVID-19 patients were required to wear N-95 masks and respirators when they were in negative air pressure rooms. As time progressed and the mask shortage continued, they had to wear the same one every 12-hour shift. At the end of their shift, they placed the masks in a paper bag that was taken down to the Garden level to be sterilized, and then they’d wear it again the next day.
Another concern was spreading COVID-19 to non-COVID patients, as well as the risk of caregivers bringing the virus home to their families.
“We were all scared and everyone was in tears,” Tracy said. “I didn’t want to abandon my coworkers, but I didn’t want to expose my family either. Many people quit out of fear, or out of necessity because they had sick loved ones at home and didn’t want to potentially expose them. We weren’t sure exactly how it was spreading in the early days and weeks, so there was huge concern over giving care to COVID and non-COVID patients and intermixing them throughout the hospital.”
Much of Good Samaritan had to be transformed and shifted to accommodate the high volume of COVID patients. The medical unit on the 4th floor was reconstructed to create negative air pressure for COVID patients that required a high level of care. The ICU reached capacity and as that happened part of the observation unit was used for the overflow of patients who didn’t need a ventilator or didn’t require the level of care as those in the ICU. The entire hospital had at least two negative air pressure rooms on each unit. However, in some cases because we continued to do outpatient surgeries, the patients who could not go home after surgery had to stay in phase two of the recovery area. These became patient rooms for short stays or next day discharges because the hospital remained at capacity.
“Compassion fatigue placed us in a position of burnout and I have PTSD when it comes to COVID-19,” said Tracy. “You always want to give the best care possible to your patients, but when there is a lack of staff available, all staff must depend on one another even more. For me, coping included trying to eat healthy, exercising, support from family, friends, church, prayer and my faith in God.”
When asked what lessons she would pass on to new nurses post-pandemic, Tracy said, “I would encourage every nurse to treat every patient as if they were their own loved one and to encourage your coworkers to work together as a team because this is a 24-hour job. It is crucial that we all take care of ourselves because if you don't take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others.”
“I am proud of all the healthcare workers who did not quit and who endured the severity of COVID-19,” said Tracy. “Those who didn’t abandon their coworkers, who had compassion for others, who just showed up to do whatever they could. Those who volunteered endless hours regardless of being exhausted, regardless of crying, and regardless of fear. Being a healthcare worker is not just a job, it is a calling. If you feel called to the cause you do whatever you can for the call to duty. I'm proud of my coworkers and I'm proud of the teamwork in every department of Good Samaritan.
We are happy to report that two years after our second COVID-19 patient entered our doors, Yadeira is living a happy and healthy life with her husband and two foster children, and it is because of the amazing doctors and nurses who took such great care of her. Since March of 2020, we have worked together to treat more than 1,000 COVID patients. Because of your skill and compassion, the vast majority of COVID patients entering Good Samaritan have been discharged home to continue healing. Many of those discharged to other facilities for follow-up care have also made it home because of our incredible healthcare heroes.
Thank you to all of you for the difference you make in the lives of others. Your resilience, perseverance and dedication are an inspiration to us all. We are truly grateful for you!