Across the country, people of all skills, trades and professions are adapting to new routines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Augusta Health, dedicated healthcare workers and staff across the medical group are redeploying to new roles for the good of their patients, community and one another.
Due to the stay-at-home order, many departments and facilities are seeing fewer patients or have temporarily paused services, but their team members have found ways to contribute to other areas of the hospital—from cleaning and managing personal protective equipment (PPE) to EMT services and information sharing.
Ensuring Safety Through Knowledge
For 17 years, Lara Young has been a physical therapist in the Augusta Health Outpatient Center, where she treats patients with orthopedic injuries and conditions. On April 2, Young began serving as an Augusta safety resource officer, a new role developed to support those caring for COVID-19 patients with guidance on PPE use, surface cleaning and up-to-date information.
Liz McWhirt, RN, is manager of Augusta Health Urgent Care Services and, like Young, is taking on new responsibilities during the pandemic. McWhirt, who has been with Augusta Health for seven years, normally makes rounds at several clinics each day. In response to the virus, one of those clinics, Augusta Health Urgent Care, Waynesboro, was converted into a COVID-19 assessment center. The center exclusively sees patients with respiratory illnesses, fever and potential coronavirus exposures, which promotes safety for patients and staff by minimizing their exposure.
“My team is used to caring for acute injury and illnesses, and now they only see respiratory patients and have to adapt to using PPE,” says McWhirt.
To help her team adapt to this change and maintain safety, McWhirt is making sure that they have the proper PPE. She also keeps daily records of staff who care for COVID-positive patients and patients who are tested.
Before the pandemic, Zachary Allen, a personal trainer from the Augusta Health Fitness Center, created workouts to help clients reach their various fitness goals. Now he cross-trains in the laundry department to assist this vital team with their day-to-day operations. He runs two large pieces of laundry equipment that fold and iron clean blankets, sheets, pillowcases, contours, bedspreads and gowns for various hospital departments.
“The thing I enjoy most about working in my new department is seeing how things behind the scenes work,” Allen says. “This experience has shown me that every department is key to ensuring our hospital runs smoothly. As we walk through the hallways at the end of the day to distribute the different linens, I see the things in the linen closets we’ve cleaned and folded, and it makes my role feel important.”
Augusta Health’s Environmental Services Department (EVS) has always had a major role in managing the cleanliness of all of the hospital departments, but during the COVID 19 pandemic, its role is more critical to the organization than ever. Beyond the routine cleaning procedures, EVS is utilizing the Surfacide System, an ultraviolet (UV) light-emitting device that disinfects a variety of surfaces and spaces. Surfacide provides data that indicate its device is effective against multidrug-resistant organisms including coronaviruses.
Jennifer Dixon, EVS team leader, and Alisa Byers, EVS project specialist technician, together have nearly 20 years of experience in the department and work with the Surfacide system. Byers runs the Surfacide System in isolation rooms after they have been cleaned. Dixon prepares supplies for her team, assigns team members to their areas each day and responds to various daily requests.
“I feel confident knowing every day that I am doing my part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the hospital,” Byers says. “Each day, I end my day with a shower to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to my family.”
Everyone on the EVS team is wearing masks daily. Their daily huddles are held in large rooms to allow for proper social distancing. They are taking steps to ensure PPE is properly utilized and conserved. And they are training redeployed employees from other departments in preparation for a surge of patients.
“It’s a great feeling to hear from others that they appreciate all that my department is doing,” Dixon says.
Making the Most of New Norms
Several Augusta Health Physical Therapy employees are working in many other important roles during the pandemic. Jackson Maust is a physical therapist who also possesses an EMT certification and is currently serving as an EMT in the Emergency Department (ED). Maust, an Augusta Health employee for seven years, works four 10-hour days a week in the ED, doing a little bit of everything, including starting IVs; phlebotomy; checking vital signs; performing EKGs; and assisting with wound care, casting, splinting and transporting patients.
“I’m amazed at how much the [emergency medical technicians] know and do on a daily basis,” Maust says. “I’m not at the point of doing everything the experienced techs do, but I’m trying to learn and do as much as possible to make myself as productive and helpful as possible while I’m here.”
Out of habit, Maust still begins and ends his workday in the Physical Therapy Department, which provides a bit of comfort. “It’s nice to be at my familiar desk and department, even if I just put my bag and lunch down and head to the ED,” he says. “It gives me a chance to see my co-workers that I’m rarely seeing these days.”
The ED environment allows for more team-based collaboration than the Physical Therapy Department, which Maust says he has been enjoying. “The staff is really in tune with each other and is quick to pitch in and help at a moment’s notice,” he says. “My home department works incredibly well together, but patient care in therapy is more often done on an individual basis with less collaboration. In the ED, it’s critical to have a flexible and skilled team that communicates well and trusts each other at all levels.”
Maust says there have been several opportunities to combine his EMT and physical therapy skills. He’s been able to help with patient intake, assessments and testing as a technician, then help with positioning and mobility during the course of a patient visit. “I’m incredibly thankful for the patience and graciousness of the techs and nurses that are teaching me and the providers that are working alongside me as well. When I’ve had opportunities to be a resource that the ED doesn’t typically have, it has felt good to feel like I’m adding value for patients and taking some of the workload off the staff.”