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Staff “felt the love” and support

Vancouver | June 16, 2020
Stacie Jesser in front of Vancouver Specialty and Rehabilitative Care
Facing desperate circumstances amidst the pandemic, Vancouver Specialty and Rehabilitative Care found relief from PeaceHealth caregivers.

Running a medical facility that cares for people with severe health conditions is challenging enough on a good day. Operating one during the COVID-19 pandemic has been so much more.

Vancouver Specialty and Rehabilitative Care, an independently owned and operated skilled nursing facility in Vancouver, Washington, was in the midst of a remodel when the novel coronavirus first began showing up.

Leaders sick with virus

By mid-March, the facility was without someone to oversee infection control. Days later, several department heads were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Stacie Jesser, vice president of clinical integration for VSRC.  “All of those who make things run here” were out sick and under quarantine for two weeks.

That left Stacie the lone administrator to lead the crew of 150 employees until those leaders could return. On top of that, the facility faced the same sting of inadequate supplies felt by most healthcare facilities at the time. “Morale was very low,” she notes.

“I’ve had experience with infection control from working with a regional public health group in the past, but I don’t usually do this kind of work,” she says. Given the circumstances, Stacie knew she and her team needed help.

Years ago, she had worked with Catherine Kroll, who is now PeaceHealth’s system director for infection prevention.

Reaching out to PeaceHealth

Stacie reached out to Catherine and Sara Williams, director of care management at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, also in Vancouver. Both responded to the plea, raised a flag with the Incident Command overseeing COVID-19 management at PeaceHealth Southwest.

Since PeaceHealth regularly discharges patients to VSRC, a health care partner in the community, leadership quickly recognized the importance of offering assistance.

That was when Melissa Nath, Michaela Murphy and others got the call.Melissa Nath, Michaela and Racheal

By that time, COVID-19 was disrupting normal services at the hospital. Both PeaceHealth caregivers were in the pandemic “labor pool,” taking assignments for whatever needed to be done at the time.

Day jobs on hold

Melissa’s job as a joint replacement coordinator was on hold until elective surgeries resumed. As a coordinator, she helps patients prepare for and recover from joint replacement surgery.  Michaela’s regular role is to provide education on patient isolation practices and infection prevention to newly hired support staff such as certified nursing assistants, technicians and security at the hospital.

Eager to use their well-honed training and expertise, both jumped at the chance to help staff at VSRC.

They weren’t the only caregivers from PeaceHealth to assist during the crisis. Julie Kirk, a nurse manager, and Rachael Vogel, a clinical nurse educator were also among the first wave of support. And Stacie notes that when two of VSRC’s social workers were out for several weeks, PeaceHealth also sent Sarah Wilson and Emily Stoutsenberger to beautifully bridge the gap.

“Michaela, Julie and I decided that the first thing to do was to see firsthand what they had to work with,” says Melissa. “It was eye-opening.”

Critically low on supplies

They found VSRC low on supplies. Nursing homes don’t typically have a lot of storage space, says Melissa. “They can’t build up the kind of stockpile that would have been necessary during a pandemic.” Additionally, VSRC was categorized by the state as a “tier three” facility, which meant other sites were given higher priority. The only way to get more supplies would have been to have more virus cases, Stacie notes.

There were tears

During their initial tour, the team made a commitment on the spot to get VSRC supplies daily of several necessities. “There were tears,” says Melissa.

Stacie readily admits those tears were hers. “When the PeaceHealth team said they said they were going to come every day, I just started bawling in the hallway. If it weren’t for PeaceHealth, I don’t know what we would have done.”

Eager to learn

Coming to VSRC every day was a joy, according to Michaela. “Everyone was very welcoming to us, every time we went over. They were eager to learn whatever they could,” she says. “I was struck by how happy they came to work despite the challenges.”

Over those few days, the team from PeaceHealth provided “just in time” training outside of patient rooms, demonstrating important reminders in how to put on and take off personal protective equipment.  They set up stations to keep clean supplies separate from used materials. They also covered other education topics for staff in common areas.

Staff felt the love

“Having this level of compassion and support from the team at PeaceHealth meant a lot,” says Stacie, “The staff really felt the love.”

Melissa and Michaela appreciated the chance to get to know VSRC’s “most gracious” team, from the respiratory therapists and nursing staff to housekeepers and security staff who were wiping down everything—including supplies and equipment used in the remodel—that entered the building.

During visits, they saw heartwarming shows of support from other area companies, including a roofing contractor that hosted an outdoor coffee bar for the hardworking crew.

Thinking outside the box

Being good teachers, Melissa and Michaela also learned from their students. With 34 residents on isolation precaution and the need to enter each room about 10 times per shift, the potential to burn through supplies rapidly was a great concern.

Even with additional supplies from PeaceHealth, the VSRC team took steps to safely conserve their PPE while delivering the necessary close patient care.

Such few cases

Beyond the virus cases among leadership, VSRC ultimately had three residents test positive for COVID-19. This included two roommates who had very mild symptoms, says Stacie, and a third resident who appears to have experienced a false positive. Housewide testing in mid-April showed only one other case, a staff person who was asymptomatic.

Having so few cases amid so many vulnerable individuals was a miracle. “To us, the staff at VSRC are the real heroes,” says Michaela.

Humbling and unforgettable

The whole experience was humbling and won’t soon be forgotten.

Melissa felt strongly that helping VSRC was the right thing to do. “This is a home for people. If it closed, where would people go? We had to do our best to keep them from shutting down and to help them take care of their residents,” she says. “It doesn’t help just our hospital in Vancouver, but our sister hospital in Springfield, Oregon, and all of those up and down the West Coast between California and northern Washington.”

Living the PeaceHealth Mission

Michaela echoes the intensity of Melissa’s feeling. “I really felt in this assignment that I am living the Mission and values of PeaceHealth and I was very honored and humbled to be part of this. It felt good to make a difference.”

She adds that when patients move from the hospital to VSRC, “it’s nice to know our patients are going to a good place where they will get good care from sincere people.”

Stacie too expresses similar sentiments, “We pulled through a very hard experience. I think we grew personally and professionally,” she says. “We’ll never forget how much PeaceHealth did for us and our community.”

Top photo:  Stacie Jesser stands in front of Vancouver Specialty and Rehabilitative Care
Second photo:  Melissa Nath, Michaela Murphy and Rachael Vogel

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