“It was a war for us” – TidalHealth reflects on impacts of COVID-19 more than a year later
SALISBURY, Md. – It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived in Maryland. Local healthcare workers say these past 15 months have been an emotional whirlwind. TidalHealth Peninsula Regional was no exception to that. “The first three months were pretty challenging because we didn’t know what we had or what we were doing. We had a lot of folks passing and dying from the pandemic,” said Chief of the COVID-19 Response Team, Dr. Chris Snyder.
The hospital says they are starting to transition back to a sense of normalcy. But the shadow of COVID-19 still looms. “We were being told, by nature of just watching other countries and other states, to expect just mass casualty,” said Chief Nursing Officer, Sarah Arnett.
As of June 2021, the outside of TidalHealth looks pretty much the same as it always has. But inside, a specialized COVID-19 unit remains in place. Equipment like ventilators and PPE still line the halls of that area. Arnett says while those tangible things may not stick around forever, the emotions, hustle, and lessons learned will likely stay with staff for years to come. “I really hope we don’t have to use this space again. Just the amount of people – physical bodies of people – and the effort that it took to transition our entire organization from the very first day the pandemic to declare to today,” said Arnett.
Take for example the basement floor of the Layfield Tower. Just a year ago, it was filled with the sound of beeping monitors, respiration machines, and health care workers working frantically to save lives. “We were being told to place our patients in negative pressure. Most hospitals have a limited number of rooms available for that. So, how are we going to adjust our capacity with that?” said Arnett.
Arnett says staff and community members worked quickly to find a way to supply that vital negative pressure. She says that way, the hospital could prevent the virus coming into the COVID-19 unit from escaping to the rest of the campus. “The Layfield Tower was built in such a way that we could transition a lot of the different areas to that. So, we thought, ‘Well, can we transition the conference area as well?'” said Arnett.
As work on the new unit began, the sounds of construction filled the halls. What was once a conference room and IT department transformed into a unit for the sickest COVID-19 patients in just three weeks. “There was no air, no gas, no suction – nothing that you would think about as far as taking care of a patient. We were able to transition that very quickly, which would have otherwise been a year-long job,” said Arnett.
More than a year later, the room sits in silence. Dr. Snyder says it’s far cry from the hustle that health care workers had to put in to meet the everchanging demands and urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You didn’t know if you were going to get it or not. We didn’t know how to treat it. So, that was pretty challenging. A year out from that, we’ve totally come full circle,” said Dr. Snyder.
Meanwhile, health care workers tell 47ABC that at the beginning of the pandemic, they were being told to prepare for and expect a loss of life greater than they could have ever imagined. Arnett says while staff prepared to expect the unexpected, they were scrambling to make sure all hands were on deck. “Our biggest logistical challenge was how are going to find nurses, doctors, other respiratory therapists to help take care of all these patients that we were expecting? And where are we going to put them all?” said Arnett. “Our policies for employee health, our policies for isolation overall, our process for even delivering food or taking out the trash had to change.”
Dr. Snyder says the loved ones of those suffering from COVID-19 were also a key piece of health care that was temporarily lost. “When patients are sick they usually don’t have very good mental status. They’re scared. They have to go through a lot of processes. So, we depend on loved ones and caregivers. That opportunity was totally gone for probably nine months,” said Dr. Snyder. “The history of what happened to you before you come to us is imperative for us to really get a good differential for what we’re looking for in health care.”
Caution is still abundant at TidalHealth. Plus, the current COVID-19 patient population is less than you can count on one hand. But health care workers say the lessons learned are already serving as a compass for what may lay ahead. “I think our approach to patient care, and our newfound appreciation for the way that we could do thing will stick around. We had a lot of cross training taking place. So, I believe that will be something that we’re going to want to continue,” said Arnett.
Dr. Snyder says a part of that preparation also includes the community as a whole. “Now that we have treatments, please get them. Get vaccinated. The number of cases in the hospital have gone down exponentially. It’s clearly unvaccinated patients who are coming in the hospital sick,” said Dr. Snyder.
TidalHealth says the COVID-19 unit will likely remain there for a little longer, just in case another wave of the pandemic comes. They also say while it cost thousands of dollars to put everything in place, it would likely be just as expensive, or even more costly to remove it. “That’ll be something that we work at from an organizational perspective, with the end goal being returning to normal with the ability to maintain the integrity of what’s been transitioned,” said Arnett.
TidalHealth’s COVID-19 visitation policy is still in place. One visitor aged 18 or older is allowed per patient, except for those patients have been confirmed to have COVID-19. Masks are still mandatory on hospital grounds, and everyone who walks through the doors is subject to a screening for the virus.