While most of us are staying as far away as possible from sources of the new coronavirus — the virus that causes COVID-19 — there is one group that is meeting the threat head-on: medical providers.
Two of those professionals, Jill Owens, MD, Bradford Family Medicine, and Jessica Short, RN, charge nurse, emergency department at Bradford Regional Medical center, talked to The Era about what it is like to work in medicine during a pandemic.
“I think, like most physicians, I have a calling to help people, especially those in my community, and right now is their greatest time of need — at least in my lifetime,” said Owens. “Most of us want to be sure our offices and health systems are well prepared for what we suspect is coming and then be ready to do our best to help as many as we can with every resource we have available.”
For Short, a Bradford native who went to college in Pittsburgh, then returned to Bradford for her career and to raise a family, she sees her work as a way to share her gratitude to those who supported her over the years.
“I will always remember all of the kind souls in this community that helped support me through my schooling,” she said. “I have always tried to make it a priority to serve the community as a way of giving back to the people that gave me such incredible support, especially in these critical times.”
Tasked with talking to local physicians about helping at the hospital as it gets busier, Owens was moved by the response.
“Not only has everyone said yes, most have offered to do whatever is necessary to prepare and take care of this community,” she said, adding, “I’m very proud of our local docs for being willing to risk their safety to help! And we’re seeing the same dedication from nurses and other hospital staff as well.”
Short talked about her core team — people Bradfordians might recognize as the ones who supported them when they were feeling their worst.
“I have an incredible work family! I am the charge nurse of my team and I have to say that my entire team goes above and beyond everyday,” said Short.
Short’s leader, Anne Hardy, “shows up everyday with a smile no matter what,” and “fights to protect us and keep us safe and also stands beside us with her sleeves rolled up ready to help with whatever needs to be done. Her “wing man,” Missy Ivanich, “has been instrumental with trying to shut down rumors on social media and keep people calm with the facts.”
Lindsey Carter, who’s been with the team almost a year, “is kind, compassionate and always advocating for her patients,” said Short. Standing at the front line is triage nurse Brandon Short, who “has the difficult job of sorting through the patients, to be sure that we are caring for the sickest patients first. He also has the skill to identify potential problems and come up with solutions in order to prevent disasters.”
“Gentle giant” Dan Kermick “is always making sure that he is keeping up with the everchanging policies and procedures and has an amazing calming effect on his patients,” Jessica Short continued.
She said that Karen Butler “is one of the hardest working nurses I know. She has an incredible way of always knowing what someone else needs when they need it.” Main tech Mike Strotman “does the running, the ordering and everything in between to ensure that our department has everything that it needs.”
Marsha McCool, who registers patients, “always goes the extra step. Whether it’s getting a patient a warm blanket or a glass of water. Marsha has a way of just knowing what people need and being right there for them.”
Last but not least, said Short, is the team’s scheduler, Sheryl Nelson — “the glue that holds our hospital together.” Nelson is “the ‘woman behind the curtain’ who always makes sure that everyone in every department in the house has what they need at all times.”
Short said, “BRMC has been my family for almost 20 years and I feel so lucky to have worked with such a supportive talented group for all these years.”
The risks faced by Short and Owens, who both have families, as well as their colleagues, do not end when they go home.
For her part, Owens has separated herself from her family so she can take care of others’ families without passing along the risk.
“I have sent my children to live full-time with their father until this is over, so I wouldn’t risk exposing them to this virus and I’ve kept myself isolated from my parents and the rest of my family for the same reasons,” she explained. “Thank goodness for technology that allows us to video chat! I can’t wait to all sit down together again.”
Short, along with her husband, who is also a nurse, have two teenage sons at home.
“We have expressed to (our sons) how important it is to stay at home and do our part not to promote the spread of this disease,” she said. “As always, they have been very supportive. We are all trying to make the best out of staying home like many others.”
The Short family works together to make the best out of staying at home, and they have developed a new hygiene routine to keep everyone as safe as possible.
“As nurses, we have become much more aware of the importance of making sure that we do not bring the ‘work germs’ home with us,” she said. “Everyday we just try to have a heightened awareness of our actions. Always shower after work and do the laundry immediately.”
This has been an emotional time for everyone — Short and Owens included.
“My hope is that being in a rural area, our natural social distancing will help to flatten our curve and not have as many sick patients so we don’t become overwhelmed,” Owens said. “My fear is that we could have more patients than supplies or lose members of our healthcare team and not have enough left to treat everyone.”
Owens is hopeful that their preparations — getting every resource and medical professional ready — will be enough to treat any influx of patients in the coming weeks.
“My outlook on my job as a physician has changed dramatically,” she added. “Initially, as a small business owner, I worried about keeping my office open with the decrease in patient volume but with the help coming to small businesses, I’ve been able to return the focus to caring for our patients. I’m blessed with a great team at my office that is helping me do that and allowing me time to help BRMC prepare for when the virus hits us.”
Likewise, Short said, “My hope is to have everything that we need to care for our community.”
In this time when there is so much people do not have control over, Short recommends that people focus on what they can control.
“I can make the choice to stay home when I am not at work,” she said. “I can make the choice to always come home and shower after work and wash my clothes immediately. I can make the choice to wear my mask at work. I can also make the choice to help myself stay healthy. I can choose to eat healthy food and exercise.
“These are the things that I focus on to stay hopeful instead of fearful,” Short added. “I have faith in my health system that they are doing the best that they can to make sure that we have the tools that we need.”
Both medical providers urge residents to take the mitigation measures seriously.
“STAY HOME!” said Owens. “Isolation is our best hope to cut down on the number of cases
locally as well as the number of people who get very sick.”
She recommends that everyone stay isolated unless they are considered essential workers, and asked those who are ill to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
“Even essential workers should be practicing social distancing and minimizing contact as much as possible,” Owens added. “Call or message your doctor if you are sick and only call 911 or go to the ER if you are in distress or need immediate medical attention.”
The existence of a pandemic does not stop the risk of facing other medical issues. Short wants the public to know that the ER staff are still ready to help, just as they always have been.
“We are happy to continue to serve our community for all emergent needs,” she said.
Short wants everyone to feel like they can make a choice to take care of themselves at this time, too.
“I would like to empower our community to take control of your situation,” she explained. “If you’re afraid of getting sick, take control. Make the choice to stay home. Make the choice to take care of yourself. Make the choice to isolate yourself when you have a cold in order not to spread it.”
Short said, “If we all make the choice to stand together united in isolation we can beat this thing!”
Owens has been posting other information about the medical crisis for the community on Facebook. She also suggests listening to physicians who are “leading the efforts nationally,” such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Jerome Adams.