By Mike O’Kelly
Seven-year-old Daniel Forton reclines on a bed in a clinic room inside the Kmart St. Jude LIFE Center at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He tilts his head back, closes his eyes and firmly squeezes the hands of Stephanie Wilkerson, RN. Meanwhile, Juice Thompson, RN, prepares a nasal swab to test Daniel for COVID-19.
Nasal swabbing is a part of daily operations at St. Jude as the hospital works to keep COVID-19 off campus. All St. Jude patients on campus are now being tested for the virus.
The hospital ramped up its response to the pandemic in mid-March. Clinical staff rose to the challenge to relocate departments, create new spaces and oversee the new clinic.
A new space
The Kmart St. Jude LIFE Center is typically an outpatient clinic for several departments. Hospital leaders recognized that the unattached building near a campus entrance would work well for patient COVID-19 testing.
“This building was a perfect choice, because we have an isolation entrance,” says Dawn Carrier, RN, a clinical staff leader.
Carrier and her colleagues spent a Sunday afternoon in March preparing the facility. Existing clinics were relocated, and existing rooms were converted for screening. In about four hours, the team completed the conversion, staging and arranging medical equipment to prepare for the next morning.
“We made sure we had everything we needed for critically ill patients,” says Rachel Findley, RN, a clinical staff leader “If anyone is going to get this right and do the right thing, it will be St. Jude. We are committed to the patient, staff and the community.”
The screening process
Once screening for COVID-19 began, the team focused on daily procedures that would best serve patients who were being screened as well as those who had appointments in other clinics.
Security staff directs families with screening appointments to the white tent outside the Kmart St. Jude LIFE Center when they enter campus. There they are greeted by a staff member and directed to a patient room. Nurses work with registrars in the front lobby to register the patients. The clinician then prints an armband, walks the patient to the screening room and logs into the computer. The nasal swab procedure takes about 10 seconds.
“Then we make sure the swab is labeled and put it on ice. We bring it to the tube station and send it to the lab,” Wilkerson says.
Things have changed a lot since the first day, but I feel St. Jude is one of the most controlled hospital environments to work in during this pandemic.
Every possible measure
Since the clinic opened, symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, and sometimes the patients’ parents, have been screened.
“Things have changed a lot since the first day, but I feel St. Jude is one of the most controlled hospital environments to work in during this pandemic,” Thompson says. “I consider myself blessed to work at an institution that is taking every possible measure to ensure the safety of the patients, families and employees.”
Thompson and her team have completed hundreds of nasal swabs for COVID-19 since screening began March 24. Clinic days are much different now. Nurses must find ways other than hugs to show their patients comfort and smiles. Patients and families understand the need for the precautions. Staff continue to provide hope and reassurance that St. Jude is doing everything possible to keep everyone safe.
“I feel very thankful that I am a nurse at St. Jude during this pandemic,” Carrier says. “The fact that we haven’t had the mass spread of COVID-19 among staff and patients is a success.”