Going above and beyond during COVID-19
By Jamie Jeffrey, LPN – Newark Community Health
When I became a nurse twenty years ago, I never thought I’d be faced with a life-threatening virus like COVID-19, nor could I have predicted my reaction. For the past nine years, I’ve worked for Finger Lakes Community Health (FLCH) in four of their health centers. I love what I do, and I love the patients I care for, but when I started to hear news about COVID-19, I had a very unexpected reaction.
Facing my Fears
In the beginning, my emotions were running high. I cried on my way to work each morning, afraid that I would get COVID-19 and die, or worse, infect my friends. That really scared me. After several days of feeling like this, I finally called our medical director, Dr. Jose Canario, and he reassured me that we were prepared for this – that I was prepared for this. He told me, “You’re a very competent nurse. You know what you have to do to protect yourself and the patients. You’ve got this. If anyone is going to keep everyone safe, it’s you!”
I let his words sink in; it was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to be strong and remember that I was doing something important by helping my community. With a heavy sigh, I assured myself, “I’ve got this!” I decided to remind myself every day that I’m doing all the right things: wearing all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, and keeping away from my friends. Still, I was very concerned about exposing others, since I would be working with patients who’ve had the virus, and if something were to happen to the people close to me, I don’t how I could handle it.
A few days after speaking with Dr. Canario, our Chief Quality Officer and FNP, Ellen Hey, asked me to be the point person for administering COVID-19 tests to our patients. At this point, I already knew I’d be working with patients who could have the virus, but now, I would be testing people who had symptoms of the virus. It was a daunting responsibility, but I was confident that I could rise to the occasion.
My first testing experience was with an elderly couple. I tested them in our health center’s parking lot; this is typically where we conduct the tests to keep the patients and staff inside the health center safe. This couple was very scared. They weren’t feeling well, and had regular contact with many people, including children, which worried them. Upon showing symptoms, they asked their primary care provider for the test, and were referred to Public Health, who then referred the couple to Newark Community Health. Thankfully, they tested negative. At the end of my shift, I was able to speak with them about their results, and they were very grateful. So was I.
COVID-19 changed healthcare and nursing overnight. Our priority at FLCH has always been the health and safety of both our patients and staff. Because of the nature of the virus, we had to quickly adopt new policies and procedures that would keep everyone safe. One critical change was with our use of technology. Within days, virtual visits became our new normal. Now, our patients can stay at home and communicate with their provider via video on their computer, tablet, or smartphone, so long as they have an internet connection.
FLCH has been using telehealth technology for years, which is why we were able to transition to virtual visits so quickly. I’ve never been particularly savvy with technology, and hadn’t done virtual visits very often because our patients preferred seeing their providers in person. However, with the help of our telehealth and IT teams, I’ve gained confidence in using technology to help our patients connect with their providers from home and am now training my coworkers to do the same.
Being a nurse during a global pandemic is eye-opening, and I consider it a turning point in my career. When Ellen Hey asked me to be the point person for testing, I felt empowered to face my fears, not only for the sake of keeping people safe, but to make her proud. I wasn’t sure that I had it in me, but Ellen believed in me, and by believing in me, she helped me believe in myself. She handed me the baton, and I had to take it and run. It’s an honor to be able to contribute to my community in such a meaningful way, and after being a nurse for twenty years, I’ve never felt more validated in my decision to pursue this career path.