NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – A ThedaCare nurse is asking the community for support as hospitals get ready to face another COVID-19 surge.
According to a release, cards written by community members, donated food/snacks, and visitors waving up to team members with signs help with morale during difficult days.
However, Kristy Heckert, a Registered Nurse (RN)/Clinical Manager of the COVID-Unit at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, says what health care workers need is a different kind of community support.
“We’re prepared to care for an increased number of COVID patients, we have the technology, the skills, and knowledge,” Heckert explains. “Do we have the mental and emotional strength to do this again? That is why I am worried right now. We need our friends and neighbors to rally again, get vaccinated, take COVID-safe precautions, and support each other.”
In the most likely scenario, modeling predicts cases peaking again in September-October. Health officials say this may change if vaccination rates and behavior – like masking and social distancing – actually happen more frequently.
What Wisconsin is facing now is too familiar for Heckert. She says last Fall of 2020 their team had to change their game plan because needs seemed to change minute by minute. From their 6 a.m. huddle to their 10 a.m. huddle, they had to change how they would battle the substantial number of coronavirus cases together.
“These team members are incredible,” explains Heckert. “There is so much talent in this group. They have special skills that allow them to adapt and change to provide the best care they can for each person.”
Flexibility seems to be the unique key for ThedaCare’s COVID team to handle all of their responsibilities. “COVID can be a difficult virus to treat, it impacts each person differently. That’s why being able to care for each individual, knowing what works for one patient might not work for another, is crucial. And this team does that exceptionally well,” adds Heckert.
Working to the brink
ThedaCare says the near-capacity, constant change, and quick thinking seemed to lead staff members down a rabbit hole – quickly becoming fatigued.
“I saw the marks below their eyes and on top of their ears from the masks they wore for 12-16 hours,” remembers Heckert. “I saw the pure exhaustion as they finished their shift. And they came back, day after day and night after night. I know they didn’t feel like smiling, but they did. And I was fortunate to see smiles behind their masks, as they showed compassion and care for patients and their families.”
She explains how equipment and PPE filled supply shelves and runners had to work as quickly as they could – providing necessary items to team members who were dealing with patients. “It was something we’ve never experienced before,” Heckert says, as she thinks back to what teams went through during the surge of cases last Fall.
Why this is important
As of late August, all 72 Wisconsin counties were experiencing high or very high disease activity, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). The seven-day average hovers near 1,400 daily new cases. Just weeks before in July, DHS says Wisconsin averaged around 100 new cases a day.
ThedaCare leaders are asking communities to come together and help the state avoid another substantial surge in cases.
To be able to combat this, health officials are recommending those who are eligible to receive the vaccine, do so. Also, adhering to masking guidelines, physically distancing when with people other than those in your household, washing hands frequently, and staying home when ill can help.
“What they were seeing on a daily basis will stay with them forever,” says Heckert. “Our team is made up of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who care deeply for our communities. As a leader, my job is to make sure they are okay, mentally and emotionally, so if that meant giving them a brief break from working on the COVID unit, that’s what we did.”
Every day Heckert says she looks at her team members in the COVID-Unit and in the hospital and knows in her heart they are heroes. “They inspire me to lead with joy in my heart. It is a gift to care for patients, and I am honored to be a part of this team.”
ThedaCare says supporting in any of these ways will help protect these local heroes and ease their mental and physical exhaustion so that they can, in return, give the best possible care for those who need it the most.