Avera Medical Minute: Frontline workers in ICU encourage each other, assess equipment and staffing levels

Published: Nov. 1, 2020 at 7:18 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - When Avera registered nurse Carly Hohman chose her profession, she didn’t consider a pandemic.

“I didn’t think about it once, you know, in school as a student,” said Hohman.

As a frontline worker in the ICU, she’s been an eyewitness to the changes at Avera McKennan since last spring.

“We just have a lot more that we’re doing. The patients are a lot sicker,” said Hohman.

Hohman feels for those who are new to the team.

“I know we’re still training new nurses and they’re just getting thrown right in and, you know, learning real quick,” said Hohman.

New nurses or seasoned veterans, they’re all in this together.

“We have a lot of help, and we definitely work as a team, up there,” said Hohman.

Avera Hospitalist Dr. Tejaswini Vasamsetty is also a part of the team.

“Being able to come in here take care of people is great, it’s what we do, what we signed up for. But, seeing people here in the ICU, who were not supposed to be here, it takes a toll on you. But, we’ve learned to cope with it, and we learn to take it one day at a time,” said Dr. Vasamsetty.

They look to each other for support.

“We get a lot of energy seeing other people do what they do. And, you know, when you’re down and you see other people step up and do their jobs so well it gives you the energy to keep going,” said Vasamsetty.

Before the pandemic, the sickest patients in ICU were seen first. Now, it’s also another consideration: ICU patients with COVID-19 and those without.

“You see your non-COVID patients first, and then your COVID patients too but then you have to weigh, who are my sickest patients and so that’s kind of the challenge of it,” said Vasamsetty.

While some assess the pandemic by available hospital beds, the medical community reveals the true need. Caring for COVID patients requires a supply of respirators and enough staff to care for the COVID-19 patient. Maintaining enough equipment and staffing levels is a concern.

“This person’s not doing well but this one’s also not, so you got to try and fix something over here, and then turn our attention over here, and it’s hard. We have a good amount of staff right now, we’re just spreading ourselves pretty thin,” said Hohman.

The team is diligent to watch even those who seem to be holding their own.

“You know, you never really know when they’re going to take a turn for the worse,” said Hohman.

Before the pandemic, healthcare workers only had to wear extra protection for patients at risk of spreading infection. Post-COVID, gowning up is the norm. The tedious task of putting on and taking off the gear happens between every patient.

“And it takes a lot longer, but it’s also very necessary to take care of (you) and make sure that we don’t get sick, we don’t make other people sick,” said Vasamsetty. “Wearing the garb and then cleaning and then again, going into it not something that you know patients really coming out doing the same thing.”

Frontline workers encourage each other.

“Really nice knowing we’re all kind of in the same boat, in the same storm, is kind of reassuring. And, just hoping that you know our hard work will pay off and that eventually this storm will pass is what keeps me going, personally, just knowing it can’t last forever, I hope it doesn’t last forever,” said Hohman.

“We kind of lean on each other again. Our co-workers try to keep ourselves optimistic, to get us through this, and we try to tell each other. Let’s take it one day at a time,” said Vasamsetty.

The burden on doctors and nurses gets heavier as they stand in for family who can’t be at their loved one’s bedside.

“It’s so hard to tell family members they can’t see their loved one in their most dire time of need. We will hold their hand, we’ll be there for them. In every step that we can,” said Hohman.

When the beeping of the monitors fades away with the end of another long shift, each frontline worker returns to the outside world with one wish.

“We need to take care of each other when it comes down to it so we need to mask up, and we need to make sure that we don’t put someone else’s grandma in the hospital,” said Vasamsetty.

“Definitely the biggest thing would be, wear a mask to help do your part in the community while we do our part here in the hospital,” said Hohman.

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