Friday afternoons in the Chili's Care Center lobby at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are often quiet. Many patients are done with appointments for the day. Employees pass through to head home or to visit Kay Kafe and grab snacks.
But the stillness on a Friday in late March was heavy with tension and uncertainty. Outside the hospital's walls and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was advancing. Inside, four nurses, clad in facemasks and scrubs, walked single file across the lobby headed to their assignments.
The nurses moved quickly and walked 6 feet apart to maintain physical distancing. They stared ahead with a singular focus. Their determination captured the heart of the hospital's mission—ensuring the best treatment and care for St. Jude patients.
Under the guidance of Chief Nursing Executive Robin Mutz, RN, Nursing leadership has taken proactive measures, implemented new policies and enhanced their collaboration during the hospital's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are seeing true heroes step up in times of need. There’s the thought that ‘Nobody likes war, but out of war really good things come like advances in technology, medicine and personnel.’ This is not a war in the traditional sense, but it takes a crisis of this nature to see what is possible.
Prepared and proactive
When the first COVID-19 cases appeared in the United States, Nursing leadership began discussing contingency plans.
Bryan Mathieson, director of clinical logistics in Nursing, shared his expertise in crisis training as part of the team that set up the hospital's Incident Command Center. The center serves as a central headquarters for the St. Jude COVID-19 response. As a nurse practitioner in the Indiana Air National Guard, Mathieson is part of a special operations unit that focuses on disaster preparedness and emergency response.
"We spent long hours trying to devise what a response plan might be from a nursing standpoint. We wanted to be prepared and proactive," Mathieson said.
Looking at available staffing, Mathieson coordinated employee and nursing volunteers. Much of that work involved education and collaboration across departments.
"St. Jude is unlike any other place that I have ever been," Mathieson said. "We are seeing true heroes step up in times of need. There's the thought that 'Nobody likes war, but out of war really good things can come like advances in technology, medicine and personnel.' This is not a war in the traditional sense, but it takes a crisis of this nature to see what is possible."
Collaboration has led the way. Nurses are working in unfamiliar settings for the first time in decades or, in some cases, their careers.
Charles Coe, RN, director of outpatient services in Nursing, and his managers began visiting with clinic nurses early on to answer their questions about new approaches during the crisis. For the safety and well-being of patients, only nurses with an absolute need to come to campus would do so.
"We wanted to assure our nurses that we would take care of them. With the reduction in patients coming to campus, we told them they may be asked to work in another area or somewhere where they don't typically work," Coe said. "They have embraced it, and they have been wonderful to work with."
A team of licensed practical nurses started visiting the St. Jude patient housing facilities off campus to perform procedures such as blood draws and dressing changes.
Many nurses offered to help with patient and employee screening as well as testing. Clinical research nurses who haven't seen patients in years stepped in to help with testing. Nurses who work in outpatient clinics have helped their colleagues on the inpatient floors. Their inpatient teammates returned the favor.
All hands on deck
"We have all hands on deck," said Carlene Edwards, RN. This was her 17th straight workday. Edwards said she had volunteered to help her team. "Everybody is making a difference and encouraging and pulling for each other. We are working together to get us through this crisis."
Kelsey Perry, RN, an oncology nurse on the Leukemia unit, said teamwork is keeping nurses focused. Even through the uncertain times and new policies, the goal remains the same for St. Jude nurses—to provide the best patient care possible.
"I am proud to be a nurse," Perry said. "We chose this career knowing that unexpected things would happen. Because we care about our patients, we are stepping up, relying on each other as a team even more, and getting the job done."