From the Front Line: Hunterdon Medical Center’s Emergency Department
Melissa Hancsin, RN, BSN, CEN
Emergency Department Manager, Hunterdon Medical Center
How many hours a day are you working? I work 10-16 hours a day. As they say, "there's no clock on caring." This is one of those times where when there are critical patients or high volume you stay and support your coworkers until things are settled.
How are you keeping your family safe? I have two teenagers and they are both social distancing, as hard as it is. My husband is also an essential employee and he's taking all the recommended precautions at his work. My family knows that with a nurse as a mom, infection prevention is always high on the priority list. I do worry that I could bring the virus home to them, however, I protect them by protecting myself as well; following all the hospital's recommendations on PPE. I go a step further and change my clothes, my shoes and shower before I even leave work. I also do little things like keeping my cellphone in a ziplock at work and then wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe when I leave. I also do a lot of reading. The CDC, the NJ Department of Health and the World Health Organization websites have great information. I follow their recommendations even at home. Instead of a hand towel in our bathrooms, I have a stack of white towels by each sink that we use once, and then wash in high temperatures with bleach to sanitize them. I also wipe down door knobs, light switches and remotes, and other frequently touched surfaces with disinfecting wipes. There are little things we can do like that at home, that even if one of us got sick, it would prevent us from infecting each other.
How concerned are you about your own health? In order for me to stay as safe as possible I need to be well rested, hydrated and eat well. I need my immune system as fully charged as possible. I focus on those things and follow the PPE recommendations and I am confident I'll stay healthy.
What supplies do you need? We are very fortunate to have gloves, gowns, goggles, and masks. We'd love to have the comfort of having a larger supply of N95's as we use so many, despite our best efforts to balance being safe and conservative use. I do worry that we won't have enough to last us through this crisis. We have been very fortunate and some very thoughtful people in the community have donated supplies and others have sewn surgical caps and cloth masks for us. We wear those over our N95's to and from the building.
How has the surrounding community supported the hospital and what does that mean to you? The community has been amazing. This is a stressful time for everyone and we are truly blessed to know that people out there care so much. We have been treated to many delicious meals and treats, people have been busy sewing caps and masks for us, we see the luminaries people put on their front porches as we drive to or from work, and even text messages people send to check in and see if we need anything. I can feel the love and support of my family, my friends, my neighbors, and coworkers from the past through all these gestures- it renews my strength and energy.
Has anything in your training prepared you for this? Every year we do N95 fit testing, so we review donning and doffing our masks and review how to do a seal check. I worked through both hurricanes Sandy and Irene. Although the circumstances were environmental and not infectious, we had to be very creative and very resourceful. As an organization we banned together then to take excellent care of our patients, despite the fact our home lives were in a state of disarray. Some had no power or hot water, or a tree sitting on the roof of their house, yet we came to work, we made sure to check on each other and that we all had what we needed and that is exactly what we are doing now.
How will the pandemic impact future training and preparedness? Nobody working today has experience living through a pandemic. We are fortunate to be able to say that but we have no resource to turn to. We do reflect back on history and we do make forecasts based on science. What we are seeing today will guide us to make decisions more quickly and accurately in the future. Many medical innovations will come out of COVID-19.
What advice can you give to relatives or friends who have a patient in the hospital? Please know the staff here are treating your loved one like one of their own family members. We understand it's scary to be a patient, let alone not have a family member here to be with you. We take that trust you've given us very seriously. We will do our best to communicate with you within the limits of HIPPA, but know if we can't immediately come to the phone we may be dealing with another patient at that time and we will get back to you. Feel free to call your loved one's phone in their room, call their cell phone, or even face time. We will get them better and back home to you as soon as we safely can.
Is there anything on which you would like to comment that wasn’t asked? Patience is an important theme during this time. We have had so many patient patients-- they understand the importance of not only their safety, but the values of ours as well.
I would also like to thank my family for their patience. It's not easy to be married to someone that you don't know what hours they'll actually work each day, or that there's a chance they could get sick. Sometimes we come home in great moods, things went well at work, and sometimes there are tears of frustration or grief. Our families listen, they encourage us and they renew our spirits so we can come back, ready for more. On behalf of myself and my fellow coworkers, I'd like to thank teachers for their patience with us homeschooling our kids. We try to make sure their assignments are done, but we don't have time off, in fact many of us are working more than usual. We don't have all the time to devote to the homework that we'd like, but we are doing our best!