"I have been a critical care nurse for a long time. I'm used to seeing death, but with COVID-19, we saw an unprecedented increase in patient mortality. You work with these patients every shift for weeks, doing everything possible to ensure a positive outcome. For so many of them, it feels like you are just watching them die and there's nothing you can do because you have already done everything possible," recalls Howard County General Hospital ICU Clinical Coordinator Ash Caretti, BSN, RN, CCRN. "You go into critical care nursing to save people, knowing you will not be able to save everyone, but COVID made it so much more difficult. Early on it was utterly physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting for all of us and it is still difficult today.”
As COVID-19 hit, it became critical to address the needs of nurses and clinical staff serving on the frontlines of the pandemic at HCGH. The Population Health and Advancement Department and the Howard Hospital Foundation teams spearheaded a multi-department initiative to support the staff’s greatest challenge – the need to stay resilient.
HCGH Health Promotion Program Manager Tara Butler explains, “Hearing from nurses that they needed basic things like meals and stress relief, the ideas of finding funding from the community to feed our staff during long shifts and creating stress-relief kits to help them to engage in self-care to support staff well-being, were born. Donors supported the projects and provided us with the funds to purchase the supplies. It was exciting to see everyone working together to make this project happen. The staff felt the love and support of the community.
“The 2,000 stress-relief kits included items to promote relaxation and were accompanied by a message from the donor who funded them for their health care heroes. The staff were so grateful. Even though it was a small package, the kit had a big meaning behind it.”
Looking to further amplify access to resiliency resources, additional staff feedback was sought. One of the things nurses requested was a space to get away – a place to promote healing – but also to engage in well-being activities. The new Recharge Room was created and now provides another source to support HCGH nurses and staff.
“It is our hope that the recharge room provides an opportunity for our nursing staff to disengage from their everyday stress, and to have a space to go that gives them the energy to return to their shift and be well,” says Tara.
In addition to these efforts, nearly 2,000 individuals, businesses and foundations donated to the Howard Hospital Foundation in support of the COVID-19 response fund. These donations helped to fund nearly 50,000 staff meals during the pandemic and a food pantry with easy, free access to essential, nutritious foods.