COVID-19, Spectrum Health West Michigan

Q & A with Nursing Staff in Spectrum Health’s Serious Contagious Disease Unit

Caitlin and Lauren pose for a selfie

April 30, 2020

Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital is home to the Serious Contagious Disease Unit.  Normally, this unit is used to care for medical and surgical patients however in times of significant need such as now, the unit is converted so that it can accommodate patients with serious contagious diseases.   Nurse Manager Lauren Nichol MSN, RN, CMSRN and Registered Nurse Caitlin Hill, RN, share what it’s like working on this unit with patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

How has COVID changed life as you know it being a nurse?

Lauren: This pandemic has reminded me of why I became a nurse. It is so rewarding to know that you are making a difference in others’ lives.  I am proud to be a nurse and a nursing leader for this team. It brings me so much joy to be able to support our team serving and caring on the front lines. Things are constantly changing, and we are all working together as a team to adapt to these changes.

Caitlin: I know COVID-19 affects everyone in some way shape or form right now, but when we come to work it’s all we deal with all day long.  My life is COVID-19 24/7 and that can be stressful at times.

What do you want people to know about COVID-19 and the work you are doing?

Lauren: I am nurse manager in the hospital’s Serious Contagious Disease Unit and that is also one of the Medical Surgical units at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital where we care for non-ICU COVID-19 patients.

We are constantly working to ensure that we are staying up to date with the latest CDC guidelines to keep patients and team members safe while providing exceptional care to our patients. The team is flexible and constantly adjusting the care that they provide. It is amazing to be a part of this work.

Caitlin: We are learning something new about COVID-19 every day.  As soon as we think we have solid knowledge on the virus, something changes.  Every time I come back to work we are learning something new.  We wear masks the entire time we are inside the hospital and even have hot zone bosses who ensure we are putting on and taking off PPE correctly to minimize risk of contamination.   A hot zone boss is someone who has received training on how to assist staff who are entering and leaving patients’ rooms to ensure they are using the personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriately.

How is your team handling working with COVID-19 patients? Is it any different from other patients you have cared for before?

Lauren: I am so proud of our team – the team members amaze me daily by supporting one another, working together and caring for patients during these uncertain times. The team is learning something new each shift while caring for these patients. In nursing, there is a running joke that you can never know it all.  Even if you’ve been a nurse for 50 years, you can still learn something new each day. This has never been truer than with COVID-19.

All of our patients in this unit are positive cases or symptomatic patients pending results – they have a higher acuity of our other patients and require even closer monitoring because they tend to decline quickly.  In addition to that, every time we enter the room we have to put on the PPE.  This is time consuming.  We are being trained on things that we have never been trained on before while our nurses are becoming experts on how to care for these patients.

Caitlin: When a COVID-19 patient declines in health, most of the time they decline very rapidly.  We have had a few who needed to emergently be transferred to a higher level of care.  Otherwise, the biggest change is the amount of equipment we use.

This is also an intense time for new nurses to start in the field, but it’s a great way to learn about how people can decline in health.

Are you covered with PPE and feeling safe and supported?

Lauren: We have the appropriate PPE and are following CDC guidelines. We have had an overwhelming response and support when it comes to ensuring we have the appropriate PPE from both Spectrum Health and our community. I have been very impressed by the innovative solutions that we have come up with such as N95 Mask disinfection and partnering with Steelcase to design and produce masks out of H600 material.

The support from the community has been incredible. Many local businesses have produced hand sanitizer, face shields, masks, etc. I’m so proud to be a part of Spectrum Health – it seems that every barrier that we encounter is followed with an innovative solution to be sure we can provide quality care to our patients and keep our team members healthy.

Caitlin: I definitely feel safe and supported.  Seeing what’s going on in SE Michigan makes me realize how blessed we’ve been in not seeing the same surge and having appropriate equipment. The community is supporting our teams and it’s amazing. Spectrum Health has been very proactive in planning for this, and that’s very clear.

What was something about COVID-19 that surprised you or that you did not expect?

Lauren:  You can try your best to prepare for any emergency, but you will never really know what to expect.  It can be difficult to decide how to treat these patients as some treatments work for some people but not for others. That’s what makes this situation interesting and also complex.

Caitlin:  This disease is not textbook, and no patient presents the same. We are having to change what we do each day and that can make things difficult.

How is the broader team doing that you work with?

Lauren: We have been in partnership and working collaboratively with interdisciplinary teams to care for these patients. It has been amazing to watch the teamwork and compassion shine through. We truly are all in this together.

Caitlin: Our team is very proud to be caring for these patients.  This is a very specific and vulnerable population and we are learning skills that we will be able to take with us throughout our careers.

How are you preparing for the likely surge?

Lauren: There has been a lot of planning and preparation for surge. Some of this planning includes staffing, additional beds, uptraining for staff, PPE and supplies, etc.

How are you handling stress at work and at home?

Lauren:  Sometimes it is difficult to disconnect.  You see COVID-19 all day at work and then when you get home it’s on TV nonstop.  Friends and family reach out to us as experts looking for answers.  Self-care is very important to keep us all sane and energized to come to work to care for patients.  I’m encouraging staff to take breaks, ask for help when needed and to go home and take days off where they do something for themselves to stay energized and healthy.

How are your families doing, knowing you are on the front lines risking exposure?

Lauren: Our families know this is why we became nurses: to help people.  We are all sticking together and trying to get through this as a team. We are excited to make a change and a difference. 

Caitlin:  At the end of the day we want to be here.  We want to care for these patients and this is our chosen career. Everyone is committed to this cause and this entire hospital has pitched in to help.  It has been very cool to see this level of teamwork.

How are your patients doing?  How sick are they, and are you seeing some recover?

Lauren: Each patient situation is different. We have seen a wide range of ages and severity of the illness. Some of these patients are very sick and can sometimes decline very quickly.

We have also been seeing patients recover and it is such a rewarding feeling. Our team has partnered with the ICU to celebrate patients leaving the ICU with a graduation walk where team members line the hallways and cheer and congratulate the patient. The transition from the ICU to our unit is a step in the right direction and a milestone worth celebrating! The graduation walks have inspired the nursing team members and keeps the morale and energy high. To date, our unit alone has discharged 21 COVID patients from the hospital and on their way to recovery!

What would you like to say to the community?

Lauren: Thank you so much for your generous donations and for thinking of staff on the front lines during these challenging times. Your ongoing support and encouraging words are inspiring and truly appreciated! Our social distancing efforts in West Michigan are working! Continue to flatten the curve by staying home for us so that we can stay here for you!

Caitlin: Please continue to practice social distancing and take this situation seriously.  Protect yourself and your family.  Please stay home to help us continue to flatten the curve.  And thank you for your continued support during these tough times!

Rick Jensen
Media Relations
Office: 616.391.5291
Mobile: 616.706.2608