When the state of Maryland declared COVID-19 a public health emergency in March 2020, nurses in Suburban Hospital’s emergency department quickly created a safety officer position, tasked with making sure staff members were properly donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Innovations such as this, early in the pandemic, helped ensure the safety of staff and patients.
In acknowledgment of Suburban’s hard work during the pandemic and over the past three years, the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) announced in July that the hospital’s emergency department was one of 33 recipients of the ENA Lantern Award, which recognizes emergency departments that demonstrate excellent practice and innovative performance through leadership, education, advocacy and research.
“It’s a huge compliment to the staff and the department itself,” says Greta Cuccia, B.S.N., R.N., clinical director of the ED. “It shows that we’ve been able to keep our team approach, especially during COVID.”
Suburban Hospital highlighted its collaborative pandemic response in its Lantern Award application. For example, the ED nursing team worked with leadership and physicians to develop algorithms that identified the right COVID-19 test for individual patients based on criteria such as symptomatic versus asymptomatic and whether admission or procedures would be needed. They also determined which rooms to retrofit for COVID patients. In partnership with the IT team, nurses helped patients in negative pressure rooms communicate with their loved ones via electronic devices.
Suburban’s ED was previously recognized with a Lantern Award in 2018. Sibley Memorial Hospital earned the award in 2017.
For ED nurse Danielle Power, M.S.N., R.N., the pandemic has been a physically and emotionally taxing time: physically from having to continually wear PPE and work in hot patient rooms, and emotionally from a number of deaths of patients she was caring for during the height of the crisis. But going through the experience together ultimately brought the nursing team closer, she says.
“We were able to lift each other up when we were at our worst, emotionally and physically, both at work and at home,” Power says. “I was able to lean on my co-workers, and through this, I was able to express my feelings in a safe environment, and return to work knowing and feeling supported.”
The ED staff created a “happy place” wall to post photos that make them smile, ensured that employees could take breaks during their shifts to unwind, hung up community thank-you posters and made sure mental health resources were available.
Suburban’s ED treats more than 41,000 patients annually, including approximately 1,200 trauma patients. Suburban Hospital is a Level II trauma center and the state-designated trauma center for Montgomery County and the region. The ED is a designated Center of Excellence for stroke and ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), a severe heart attack in which at least one major artery is blocked.
Suburban officials included pre-COVID work in their award application. When the ED staff noticed a growing number of patients needing psychiatric care, they established a specialty care unit for psychiatric patients in crisis, which opened in 2018. The unit, which has dedicated psychiatric nurses and technicians, continues to be refined with input of the ED nurses.
Additionally, Suburban’s ED has a separate pediatric emergency center, which is staffed 24 hours a day by an emergency pediatrician and specially trained pediatric medical staff.
That autonomy and collaborative spirit is what carried the ED nurses through the pandemic, says Patricia Gabriel, B.S.N., R.N., the ED’s clinical nurse educator.
“Our staff was empowered to come up with a workflow process that kept everybody safe,” she says. “The award really is a testament to our unit leadership and to our executive team, which said, ‘Figure out what works for you, and we’ll support that in whatever way you need.’
“It’s an affirmation of the team’s ability to care for a wide range of patients, with their well-being at the center of the entire process.”