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Healthcare workers on the frontline of COVID-19 crisis

Originally published on the Time Bulletin

Kirsten Barnhart / DHI Media News Editor 

VAN WERT – Van Wert Health ICU nurse Kristi Mueller has never seen anything like the coronavirus pandemic in her 20 years as a nurse. She’s asking the community to adhere to the “stay at home” order issued by Governor Mike DeWine so we can all help slow the spread of the virus.

“I would like to thank everybody who is taking this seriously; I think they’re doing a huge part in slowing the spread,” said Mueller. “If people are still going out and about, they should suspect that every person that they are near could have it and think of how much transmission could happen each and every place they go. It’s highly infectious.”

While Van Wert County saw their first positive case of coronavirus on Friday, Mueller said many healthcare workers realized that the virus was here without official confirmation. Last week, Dr. George Trimble noted that patients who are admitted to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms are kept in a separate area in order to reduce contamination.

Mueller noted that healthcare workers are just as dedicated as ever to their patients, but are now forced to worry about their own health a lot more.

“We focus on keeping the patient healthy and getting them better, but yet now we’re making more attempts to keeping ourselves healthy,” said Mueller. “It’s a lot scarier coming to work.”

Mueller said she and her fellow healthcare workers have continued to focus on the good care they have always provided, but now there are increased measures to make sure healthcare workers remain safe during the pandemic as well.

A large focus across the nation has been placed on PPE (personal protective equipment). Mueller noted that during a 24-hour stay, a patient in intensive care would require 66 pieces of PPE. PPE includes masks, gloves, aprons, and other pieces of equipment that keep healthcare workers safe from bacteria and germs. Typically, after wearing a piece of PPE, healthcare workers would throw the item away after treating a patient.

“We have to make sure we are really protecting ourselves so we can keep coming back to work and that we are not getting ourselves sick,” said Mueller.

These days, however, healthcare workers are being asked to preserve their PPE and make the equipment last longer due to a shortage across the nation. Now, when Mueller enters a room, she has a specific mask for each room and each patient. When leaving a room, rather than throw the mask away, she removes that mask and preserves it for when she needs to go back into that patient’s room.

“I will have a mask for each room that I go in and it stays with that room,” said Mueller. “There’s a lot of time spent trying to on and off your PPE to not contaminate things; it’s very tedious.”

Recently, community members have begun creating cloth masks. While the cloth masks can’t be used alone by healthcare workers entering a potential COVID-19 room, they can be used to help keep N95 masks clean on the front; the cloth mask helps lengthen the life of the N95 masks.

Like many healthcare workers, Mueller goes home to her family each day and worries that she may bring the virus home to them.

“It’s scary,” she said. “No matter if you’re a nurse, doctor, housekeeping, techs, anybody in the hospital right now, I feel like it’s a concern. Coronavirus lives on surfaces; there’s always a risk of taking something home, possibly.”

“No matter what department they are from, everyone is in this together; every department has a piece in this,” added Mueller of Van Wert Health. “We have good teamwork here.”

“We’ve got to do the best we can to make sure we follow the guidelines like washing hands frequently,” Mueller continued. “Everyone’s got to do their part and stay home.”

Early in the crisis, Van Wert Health began restricting visitors to the hospital for safety reasons. Currently, no visitors are allowed in the ICU and Acute Care area located on the second floor. This means that nurses and healthcare workers like Mueller are the only faces that many patients are physically seeing each day. Mueller noted that in addition to being a nurse, she and other healthcare workers are now providing emotional support and providing company to many patients who are unable to physically see their loved ones.

While the second floor is restricted, people are able to send virtual letters and photos to patients through email (info@vanwerthealth.org) or by private messaging Van Wert Health on Facebook.

Mueller reiterated the importance of staying home, especially as healthcare workers have to continue going to work to help heal sick patients.

“We are trying to flatten the curve because we don’t want a bunch of people showing up at the door, sick all at once,” said Mueller. “Stay home, let this go through its cycle, as it’s going to have to. We just don’t want everybody to get sick at the same time.”