Delivering Outstanding Care During Another Challenging Year
We no longer refer to the challenges wrought by the pandemic as “unprecedented.” After all, we’re in our third year dealing with the virus. The spike in COVID-19 cases, staffing shortages and record-high census numbers have been hard on us all. Despite the challenges, we continue to deliver outstanding, high-quality care to our patients, and to each other – at the bedside, at vaccine clinics for our patients and our people, and on the employee COVID triage line. Nurses played a key role in our decision-making too: nursing represented more than half of the leaders on the all-important Bio Branch calls. Here is just a small sampling of the nurses behind these extraordinary efforts. You are all exemplary.
A head – and heart – for algorithms
As the phone calls came in fast and furious to UVM Medical Center Employee Health, and COVID fear was rampant, Infection Preventionist Monica Raymond, MSN, MPH, RN was creating a database for the triage RNs to monitor and record employee symptoms, travel and exposure and to track testing and results. “Using data to control an epidemic is my thing,” says Raymond, an epidemiologist who worked for many years in public health. “I hate the pandemic, but with my background it’s certainly been interesting and a great opportunity to experience a new disease and to put my talents and skills to work keeping people safe.” In collaboration with Infectious Disease, Infection Prevention and Employee Health, she created algorithms for the COVID triage line to follow so that employees received safe and consistent guidance, while the database captured every episode for reference and collected data on trends. Her ever-changing algorithms always matched best practices, prioritizing the safety of patients and our employees.
In addition, she provided training, reassurance and guidance to the COVID Employee Health triage RNs. With guidelines changing frequently, she was available for monitoring and consultation in cases that were complex and difficult – even on weekends. “With the efforts of the entire IP team, we tackled PPE and contact tracing for our employees, all while navigating the changing direction and guidance happening daily. The group’s collaboration and their passion for the work brought us through these challenging times,” says Carolyn Terhune, Manager, Infection Prevention.
Raymond is quick to point out that her work is part of a team approach by some incredibly skilled and dedicated Infection Prevention and Employee Health experts, including Cindy Noyes, MD, Kemper Alston, MD, microbiologists and nurses.
“I have to say I feel like we've done a pretty good job managing the pandemic,” Raymond says. “And it shows in our numbers.”
A Caring Voice on the COVID Triage Line
Lisa Koep, BSN, RN has been the steady force behind the successful operation of the UVM Medical Center Employee Health COVID triage line. The RN triage line is open seven days per week from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and answers calls from employees seeking guidance on COVID symptoms, travel and exposures. Koep brought the triage line team into better alignment by creating more effective pathways to stay connected as a team and communicate during COVID using Microsoft Teams. She created manuals and training materials that supported the ever-changing RN algorithms and the need to continually train and refresh RNs working the line. It was a constant learning experience.
“I learned a lot about using Teams and other technology through tutorials from Knowledge Wave, which our organization subscribes to,” Koep says. “And everybody has just been great about sharing their expertise, from the testing site to the lab to the schedulers.”
Koep collaborated with Infectious Disease and Infection Prevention, the EPIC team, IT, Patient Access Services and other internal departments to assist Employee Health with managing the work volumes. She worked weekends to cover calls and lead the team during the toughest and most demanding times. The largest call volumes came this winter with the peak of the Omicron variant. “I was working from home and put in 146 hours in two weeks. I’m a single mom and I had to ship my daughter off to her father’s house for the time period because I just couldn’t take care of her,” recalls Koep, adding that she feels a great sense of mission about this work. “I love being able to make an impact in people’s lives. It’s similar to the feeling I had when I was an oncology nurse.”
In October 2020, Koep lost her father to COVID. “It was a driving force for me – if I can save another family from going through that, I want to help them by giving them the information and resources they need to keep them and the people they love safe.”
Giving it Her Best Shot
Claire Langevin, ADN, RN administered the first COVID-19 vaccine in the state of Vermont to Emergency Department nurse Cindy Wamsganz on December 15, 2020. By March 5, 2021, Langevin and the rest of the mighty Employee Health team had administered 13,304 shots to UVMMC employees, both first and second doses.
They were long days, and sometimes fraught as she and the other nurses scrambled to find willing arms among the staff to avoid wasting any doses. But, she says, “It was a wonderful experience” delivering protection to her coworkers against the virus. “It was pretty emotional, and they were just so appreciative. I saw so many colleagues I hadn’t seen in years, and everyone was glad to see us. I loved it.”
Langevin oversees the employee flu vaccine clinics each year, and began delivering COVID booster shots this spring. She expects those to start back up this fall along with the flu clinics. Langevin also mentors senior nursing students from programs around the region who get trained to administer vaccinations. Her team also conducts education on blood-borne pathogens, and manages blood draws and labs for employees who need to be monitored for any blood-borne diseases, like HIV or hepatitis, after an exposure.
One of the best parts of her multifaceted role is conducting health screenings for all new hires, including residents. “I really enjoy that. We’re the first people they see, and we’re here for our coworkers – and I think of all UVMMC employees as my coworker.”
Helping to Treat Health Inequity at the BIPOC Vaccine Clinic
Despite the fact that Vermont boasted among the highest COVID vaccination rates in the nation in early April 2021, the vaccination rate for the state’s BIPOC – people who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color – was significantly behind white Vermonters. In an effort to make health equity a priority in the state, and to help decrease the health disparities for people of coclor, BIPOC Vaccine Clinics were created. The UVM Medical Center played a supporting role in the effort led by the Vermont Professionals of Color Network, with collaboration from the Vermont Health Equity Initiative (VHEI), Army National Guard, Medical Reserve Corps, The City of Burlington’s Racial Equity and Inclusion department, AALV, and the Vermont Department of Health (VTDOH).
Through this clinic, about 3,300 people were vaccinated and approximately 80 people
from the various organizations worked to make it possible. Among them was Patricia “Pat” Girome, RN, who worked most Saturdays in a variety of roles: pharmacy, clinic monitoring and vaccines.
“It was a really great experience,” says Girome, who has been a nurse for more than 50 years and has continued to work per diem since her retirement. She explained that the vibe was intentionally made to feel more like a block party than a medical appointment, with specially curated music that felt joyous and welcoming. The BIPOC organizers wanted people to feel comfortable and safe, something they don’t always feel at hospitals and doctor’s offices.
“The positive energy was palpable; it just pervaded the room,” says Girome, adding that the pandemic compelled her to stay on the job little bit longer. “It felt so good to go where I was needed, to get to know members of the BIPOC community, and to feel like I was making a difference.”
Working Magic at the Kids’ Vaccine Clinic
Mindy Pariser-Schmidt, BSN, RN, RNC-NIC, IBCLC was ready with Mickey Mouse ears and shirt on the first day of the vaccine clinic for kids 5 to 11 years old in Williston on Nov. 10, 2021. “You will be able to read minds,” she joked with her first patient, 11-year-old Kate, who giggled a little as they received their shot. When she gave a shot to Reece Bergeron, 6, of Milton (above) it took less than 3 seconds. “That didn’t hurt at all,” he said quietly moments later.
Helping Wherever Needed
Usually a part-time nurse in Ambulatory Care, Mark Reitman, ADN, RN, volunteered for extra shifts with Helping Hands, a program to support areas of the hospital experiencing extreme patient volumes. At one point he was deployed to the Emergency Department.
“I want to work as much as I can where I’m needed most... It’s the least I can do to help my coworkers get through this tough time.”