Suburban Hospital treated its first known COVID-19 patient on March 11, 2020. The Clinical Decision Unit was the first nursing team to care for COVID-positive patients and has been dedicated to caring for these patients ever since. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the hospital fluctuated, nursing teams led the way in setting up specialized units with HEPA filters, donning and doffing areas, new workflows, and other quality and safety measures. Suburban’s nursing team is agile and nimble, ready to convert units as needed for COVID patients or to accommodate increasing medical/surgical needs on separate units.
The resiliency and commitment of the CDU team in caring for this vulnerable population is truly inspiring. They rose quickly to new challenges and still maintain high spirits nearly one year later. Suburban’s nurses worked hand-in-hand with essential services personnel like Jean Chornock, supply chain director at Suburban Hospital.
Working with the Johns Hopkins Health System, Jean and her team coordinated with Nursing Leadership to ensure nurses had the masks, face shields, isolation gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure their safety, even though supplies were—and continue to be—scarce.
“After COVID hit, nobody in the country was able to locate PPE,” Chornock says. Her team, with tireless support from the corporate supply chain team, secured valuable PPE, including N95 masks and powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), and collected community donations of hand-sewn masks and other scarce supplies.
Chornock’s supply chain team was among the nonclinical departments that worked rapidly and creatively to keep nurses safe during the pandemic. Another key partner was the environmental services department, which ensures the hospital is clean. The facilities management department creates negative-pressure patient rooms to contain the virus, and tests them daily.
The Office of Quality, Patient Safety and Improvement, working with infection control and prevention practitioners, makes sure PPE is worn correctly, appropriately conserved and replaced when necessary. The Call Center plays the sound of applause over the hospital loudspeakers every time a patient with COVID-19 is discharged.
The support from all these departments continues as the initial adrenaline of coping with an entirely new disease has given way to the grinding exhaustion of a continuing crisis.
“We are all working together as a team, bringing all our talent together,” says Rodney Steadman, director of facilities management.
His 30-person facilities department installed 107 high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and changed the air pressure in patient rooms to make them suitable for patients with COVID-19. They also constructed 10 ante-rooms where clinicians don and doff personal protective equipment, and created a separate COVID-19 space within the hospital’s operating room.
“I don’t think anyone thought we would be in a pandemic, much less for such a long time,” says Ivy Ooro, assistant director for environmental services.
Ooro and her 100-person department did not change their already meticulous cleaning practices because of the coronavirus, she says, but they now wear N95 masks and protective gowns when they are in COVID-19 units. “Things take more time because of the donning and doffing,” she says.
The safe use of protective equipment has been a top concern for the hospital, says Eileen Pummer, M.S.N., R.N., C.P.H.Q., C.P.P.S., senior director of quality, patient safety and improvement.
“We created a team of safety officer champions, made up of nurses from our department and staff from other areas to provide real-time assistance with donning and doffing, and other PPE protocols,” Pummer says.
They also provided emotional support. “These champions would interact with the staff and say it’s going to be OK, we’re here to support you,” says Pummer. “There are a lot of heroes here at Suburban.”