"The dust is settling."
That's how Holy Name Medical Center nurse Ashley Fitzpatrick describes the current state of Teaneck hospital, once at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Fitzpatrick had been working in the cardiac catheter lab nurse for the last seven years, but was transferred to the coronavirus unit to supplement care during the pandemic.
“Since COVID-19 has hit our hospital, we’ve seen most of our focus turn to those patients,” Fitzpatrick told Daily Voice.
“Because of that, our volume was low in the other departments, possibly because patients were, understandably, deferring care during this crisis.”
Only now has she started transitioning back to her initial post.
Deferring care can have serious personal health consequences that Fitzpatrick says could be just as damaging as COVID-19 -- or worse.
“There’s care that hasn’t been given in the midst of this, and we need to work on getting those patients in and cared for as well,” she said.
“The health ramifications may be more than COVID in the end — it may be people who’ve been deferring care.”
On a secondary level, hospitals and doctors’ offices will likely begin to experience an influx of non-COVID patients as part of a ripple effect of deferred care.
Meanwhile, Holy Name continues to work on “forward planning” in an effort to remain prepared in the event of a second spike. The facility continues to keep PPE well-stocked and is efficiently testing for the virus.
“We’re working on protocols to test patients whenever necessary to make sure we’re safely placing patients in the hospital,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that they’ve been “hyper-vigilant” for the sake of both worker and patient safety.
As the hospital continues to clear out and shut down COVID-19 units, the “whole entire hospital, both patient care and non-essential areas,” has been cleaned and sanitized, Fitzpatrick says.
But the battle is far from over. One of the toughest long-term challenges for both patients and healthcare workers will be the grieving process.
“I don’t think that anyone has ever seen these numbers before, and I hope we never do again,” said Fitzpatrick, referring to the virus’ infection, hospitalization and death rates.
“I hope we take care of each other as we all grieve through this process.”
Fitzpatrick also urges healthcare workers and others feeling long-term effects from the outbreak, mentally or physically, to advocate for themselves and their families.
“The patients who are in the hospital now, both COVID and non-COVID, don’t have their family members here,” she said.
“It could be important to have those discussions with family members about advanced directives and what you would prefer for care, especially because the family members can’t be around.”
While it’s not clear which protocols are temporary and which are here to stay, Fitzpatrick has faith in nurses and other workers navigating the healthcare system to continue to prioritize community safety and overall wellbeing.
“I think nurses, by nature, are resilient and creative, and we’re used to being innovative,” she said.
“But going forward, we need to focus on these safety measures and keeping the community safe in the event of another outbreak."
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