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Your Healthy Family: UCHealth RNs answer reassignment call to care for COVID patients during surge

Posted at 7:54 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 22:01:24-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado hospitals are being challenged like never before, and at UCHealth Memorial in southern Colorado, the number of COVID patients continues to rise and is at the highest level since the pandemic began.

UCHealth is executing a surge plan to care for these patients – a plan that’s been in the works since the early days of the pandemic. In many ways, it’s all hands on deck as many nurses and staff have been shifted from desk jobs or operating room positions back to the bedside and patient care.

Patti Loper is a registered nurse who works in quality control at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, who hasn’t worked at the bedside for about seven years.

Patti explains that all changed in early November, and it didn’t take her by surprise. “When the pandemic started in the spring, UCHealth kicked into gear right away and told us, ‘You may be needed at the bedside as a registered nurse.’ That's what I am, and what I always will be. We did some refresher training and skills labs back in March, but our assistance wasn't needed back then because our little blip (of initial patients) then was not what we are seeing now in (the number of) cases.”

While she knew it was coming, Patti admits that when the actual call came last week, it still was an adjustment. “We found out on a Friday that we needed to be at the bedside the following week, so it was pretty quick even though in the back of your brain you know it's going to happen.”

Her very first shift back at the bedside was in the deep end of the pool, but Patti says her nerves were quickly calmed by her fellow nurses and muscle memory for patient care. “I was very afraid when they told me I was going to the COVID ICU, but when I got there, I got a great in-service by staff as they showed me around. I’m a go-to person, I am usually the preceptor, I know where stuff is and I know what I’m doing. Suddenly you get this flip (in roles) and you’re the novice, and these are really, really, really, sick patients.”

Even on its best day, bedside nursing brings a different demand to a nurse’s acumen. It’s not like sitting at a desk or being in meetings for 8 hours a day, says Patti. “There's more to it (working at the bedside), starting with the physical demands of working a full 12-hour shift where you’re basically on the run the whole time; it’s exhausting. I smashed my step goal, (for the day). I had over 15,000 steps and had 6 miles on my first shift back. When you work at a desk you don't do that.”

Adding to the normal physical demands of bedside nursing are the challenges that come with the rigors of infection control that are needed for COVID-19. Patti says, “I don't think people realize the PPE (personal protective equipment) is very hot, so you sweat, a lot. The first day back I forgot my water bottle. I didn't make that mistake the second day because you just have to drink and drink and drink to keep hydrated. There are also emotional demands that come naturally helping our patients. They are sad they are in the hospital and can't see their family. I’ve had patients apologize for getting COVID and having to make me take care of them. You really do see that human side of it, (nursing). That's also the part that I love because I love my patients.”

In her current role back at the bedside, Patti is also assisting the nurses who have been on the front lines of this pandemic from the beginning. As she tackles the physical and emotional challenges, Patti is welcoming the needed change in her professional duties. “It's wonderful actually, and one of my colleagues - I will use her words because she was so eloquent with it - it has rekindled her love for nursing, and that’s so true. There's a reason we do what we do and for whatever circumstance that we left the bedside, it does not matter. You're still a nurse at heart and you're not going to turn away when someone needs your help. The hands-on interaction is very rewarding. It’s the reason we do it and it has re-invigorated my love for nursing.”

In our next story, Patti will talk about how COVID patient care is different now than during the first of the pandemic in the spring and how long she is prepared to continue her work back at the bedside.

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