Featured image: Glenna Crouch with ICU staff
When the COVID-19 pandemic anchored in the USA last March, nurses and frontline healthcare workers found themselves dealing with new precautions, procedures, exhaustion, and fear of the unknown. As the rest of the nation, Community Healthcare System nurses and healthcare professionals came together with a common goal: to save as many lives as possible. To get through it all, they found that they could count on one another.
“We all kind of made a pact as we realized COVID wasn’t going anywhere,” said Glenna Crouch, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Community Hospital in Munster. “People would say ‘#ICUstrong’ or ‘We’ve got this.’ We started an ICU journal where we would write funny things, things that happened during the day or if we lost a patient who had been with us for a while we might even jot that down.”
With the pandemic came not only a new kind of sickness but also a surge of new patients.
“We didn’t know then what we were walking into every day when we came into work,” said Angie Pigg, a registered nurse at St. Mary Medical Center. “It had always been stressful, but it became more emotionally and physically exhausting than before. I’ve never seen so much loss in all my years of nursing. My coworkers and I couldn’t leave each other. We are a family. We know that we have each other’s backs, and we know that we’re here for each other if we need to cry - if we need anything.”
As the pandemic raged on, it was soon evident that there would be not only lasting physical effects of the virus but also mental health effects. Lead Nurse Practitioner for Behavioral Health Services at Community Care Network Jennifer Jimenez expressed that for many, the stress resulting from the pandemic piled up on top of normal stress which led to a new or increased need for mental health help.
“One thing that this pandemic has done is amplify the number of people who really need better access to mental healthcare,” Jimenez said. “It’s not the people who are chronically mentally ill that I have seen a real issue with, it’s the people who are high functioning, working, taking care of their family and maintaining a house. They’re dealing with the pandemic and everything that comes with that, and then their sleep is bad, they get stress headaches or they lose or gain weight; all those things that we shouldn’t do to cope. Those things pile up on you.”
Initially, Jimenez and other staff members for Behavioral Health Services had to work around the new obstacle of not being able to see their patients being limited to telemedicine phone visits. Not being able to read body language to interpret what a patient was saying made caring for patients more challenging for Jimenez and other staff members.
Although the staff was tired and working long hours, they kept smiling, supporting each other and caring for patients, which makes Jimenez proud.
Loyalty and support among coworkers is how many nurses and frontline healthcare workers find the motivation they needed to come to work and fight the virus every day, she said.
All three Community Healthcare System workers agree that their drive to push through the fear and continue with their important work comes from community signs and cards, community meals, and most importantly, from their fiercely devoted teammates.
“There is a lot of senior staff here and we pull together,” Crouch said. “Every one of us could have walked away from that job, but no one left during the pandemic. We felt like we had to go back. We owed it to those patients to get them out of the hospital and back to their families.”
To learn more about the devoted nurses and frontline healthcare workers at Community Healthcare System, visit https://www.comhs.org/.