‘We’re so overwhelmed’

Nurse speaks on experiences in COVID-19 ICU

By Lina Wu
Posted 5/13/20

Over time, Beth Mahoney has started to lose track of the weeks spent working as a registered nurse in the ICU at Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital.

“People are so worn …

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‘We’re so overwhelmed’

Nurse speaks on experiences in COVID-19 ICU

Posted

Over time, Beth Mahoney has started to lose track of the weeks spent working as a registered nurse in the ICU at Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital.

“People are so worn down,” said Mahoney. “We’re so overwhelmed. You know working in the ICU is a little bit more difficult, because we have the most critically ill patients.”

Working in the ICU, Mahoney and her co-workers haven’t been able to see the discharges for confirmed recovered novel coronavirus [COVID-19] patients. In some ways, seeing discharges can be a small moment of joy in an exhausting work environment.

Medical personnel all over the country are struggling to fight a pandemic that has thrown the whole world into a wave of uncertainty.

“In the beginning there was like a lot of momentum,” said Mahoney. “A lot of we got this, like everyone pulling together.” Over time, the job became more and more difficult.

Mahoney has watched coworkers pass away from the virus.

“I was with him till his very last breath,” said Mahoney while describing taking care of a coworker who passed away. She also was at the bed-side of a family friend who was infected with the virus.

“There’s no visitors, the families aren’t coming,” said Mahoney. “They’re not allowed to come. I do feel so strongly that just like whispering some words of encouragement, holding their hand, just letting them know they’re not alone and someone is there with them taking care of them is so important.”

Even in moments of struggle, Mahoney never gave up on nursing.

“This has totally made me realize I’ve never been called to do something more,” said Mahoney. Although she has witnessed some members of the staff resigning, she doesn’t think ill of hospital administration.

“Admin there has been very supportive,” said Mahoney. Despite the supportive nature of the administration, the hospital is struggling.

“We really are starting to run out of PPE [personal protection equipment], it’s not their [hospital administration] fault,” said Mahoney. “It has nothing to do with them.” Medical supplies all over the nation are more difficult to obtain than ever.

“In the beginning, I don’t think anybody knew [how severe the situation would become],” said Mahoney.

Initially, the hospital allegedly had staff consistently use the same gowns.

“Everyone is COVID positive, so it doesn’t matter if you use the same gown,” said Mahoney. “However then you are in the predicament of well you gotta go outside your room to get to the next room, and then you have the contamination there.”

Then the hospital allegedly had staff use the same gown in one room, but then leave the gown in the room. Hospital staff now allegedly use plastic single use gowns.

“We’re going through boxes like crazy,” said Mahoney. “We have to pull like probably every 30 minutes to get more boxes delivered. That’s pretty stressful.”

Mahoney said supply access is especially difficult on the weekends.

On the other hand, the hospital does have access to N95 masks. Still, Mahoney said personnel have to wear one mask for an entire shift. If one works back to back shifts, one typically has to continue using that same mask. Masks allegedly have to be used sparingly.

“Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall remains 100 percent committed to the safety and protection of our staff and patients,” said Kate Dabroski, vice president of marketing, public and community relations for Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, in an email.

Dabroski said that there hasn’t been any changes to the type of PPE used.

“Any variation in the PPE has been the result of vendor differences and has no impact on the quality or level of protection that the PPE provides,” said Dabroski. “Montefiore St Luke’s Cornwall strictly adheres to all CDC recommended guidelines.”

“The admin has really tried to be wonderful and staff us appropriately,” said Mahoney. “But we’re not, we’re not really staffed appropriately.”

“We’ve been having about seven [nurses] and we should have eight,” said Mahoney. “At this critical time, we should have more than that.” She said that the hospital administration does try its best to add on support staff for each shift.

“It’s difficult to define understaffed in these unprecedented circumstances, as no part of the devastation this virus has caused is optimal,” said Dabroski.

“With that said, our team rose to the occasion in the most challenging of times in our history together. That is what defines us at MSLC: our unwavering commitment to our patients.”

Statistically, it appears the number of COVID-19 cases are slowly going down in the state. With the decline comes high hopes that the state will reopen.

“I do think they’re [COVID-19 numbers] going down, I just think it’s harder to see in our community hospital,” said Mahoney. “It is an 18 bed ICU. So when we have one shift, and we have 3 people die; that’s kind of a lot.”

Mahoney does believe that the state can be eventually reopened but with precautions. In Albany, armed protestors are occupying the capital demanding that the governor quickly reopen the state.

“I ran into a protestor and it was a horrible experience,” said Mahoney. “I think the thing I would tell them is that I know they want to go back to work, but it’s just not going to be possible.” Mahoney said that she understands worries about the economy but the risk is too great.

Some members of the public don’t believe the virus is as serious as it seems.

“I think when you’re far removed from it, and it doesn’t touch close to home; it’s hard to understand that this [virus] can be so devastating,” said Mahoney. “They need to know this is very very real.”

Mahoney wants members of the public to take precautions like masks seriously.

“I wear it [a mask] for 17 hours a day, everyday of my life, right now for the last 6 weeks,” said Mahoney. “I understand it’s difficult.”

She also wants to clear up misconceptions over the concept of quarantining.

“What we’ve seen in the hospital is multiple family members coming in positive,” said Mahoney. “Quarantine doesn’t mean gathering your whole family and quarantining with them. It’s people you already live with.” She strongly emphasized that members of the public need to stay home to keep the spread of the virus down.

“I just really want to say to the world, to stay as positive as you can,” said Mahoney. “To not let this divide us.”

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