What makes someone decide that they want to take care of strangers for a living? This is what nurses do, and as we celebrated National Nurses Month in May, it is important to ponder this question more carefully than ever, as we reflect on the stress, confusion and frightening realities that faced our healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The duties of a nurse run the gamut — from expertly and masterfully using advanced medical technology and ensuring that the continuum of a patient’s care is seamless, to getting to know the subtleties of each patient’s condition quickly and generously offering heartfelt support to both patients and their families. Nurses are their patients’ biggest cheerleaders, and amidst countless competing priorities, never fail to slow down to listen and hold a patient’s hand when necessary. It takes a rare individual to serve patients in a clinical setting who are often in distress and uncomfortable. After all, no matter how exemplary a hospital is, landing in one can be frightening.
Most healthcare workers identify their passion and personal mission as comforting, healing, and reassuring patients when they are in a very vulnerable position, and unquestionably, the nursing team members here at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital (BRRH) do just that, every day. I have found throughout my career that nurses are, more often than not, powerfully called to do this work. Some saw family members go into nursing and decided it was for them, too. Others are born nurturers and caregivers, and still others decide to enter nursing because they themselves were cared for by a nurse who made a deep and lasting impression during a traumatic time.
The many plates that nurses must keep constantly spinning require disparate skills, yet they expertly keep everything in balance and patients safe — even in the midst of the traumatic, sometimes chaotic COVID-19 pandemic that overtook all of our lives this past year.
Our nurses’ significant contributions as essential frontline caregivers have never been more visible than the last year, either. Wherever you looked at BRRH, they were at the forefront, screening patients, negotiating creative ways for patients to connect with their families and loved ones in a time when hospital visitors were not allowed admittance, and donning personal protective equipment (PPE) to care for those stricken with COVID. As we all have learned from media coverage of the pandemic, COVID is a stealthy, fickle enemy. A patient can have no symptoms at all and infect vulnerable people, a sufferer’s condition can turn on a dime, and the reality of COVID patients dying alone — except for oftentimes, their nurses, has been tragic to watch.
We are fortunate to have Teressa Neill, MSN, RN, as our Director of Hospital Clinical Operations. She offers special insight into not only the calling of nursing but what makes BRRH’s nurses extraordinary. “Even though some may view nursing as simply another career path, I truly believe that the best nurses are those who are called to care. In fact, the Nurse Leaders here at BRRH decided that our theme for this year’s Nurses Week (May 6-12) would be ‘Called to Care in the Blue Ridge Mountains.’ This concept has never been more fitting than during this past year,” Neill explains. She shares that the nursing team’s strength, wisdom, compassion, and dedication were unparalleled, including during the painful period when patients were not allowed visitors due to COVID-19.
“Patients were suddenly alone and away from their families, and the nurses — and everyone here — stepped up to ensure that every patient knew that they were loved and that they mattered,” says Neill. She adds that they decided that every patient would have someone by their side during the worst of times and the best of times. “As I tell our team members,” Neill adds, “no one dies alone, no one celebrates alone.”
Neill said of the life-altering aspects of the pandemic and how it changed the way healthcare is practiced, “The one thing that did not waiver with this pandemic is our spirit and desire to love and care for each other. After all, that is what nurses do... they care!”
We feel so grateful for our nursing team. Neill and the Nursing Leaders found tangible ways to thank them during Nurses Week, including putting on a scavenger hunt, offering spa experiences like chair massages and aromatherapy, setting up a fire pit and s’more making station, planning a “Nacho Average Nurse” celebration with food and piñatas, creating a mobile photo booth, and more.
Some community members also may have read the recent story about one of our young ED patients, 16-year-old Rachel van Brederode. Though she was ultimately transferred to Mission Hospital for an emergency appendectomy, Rachel was so impressed by our supportive, comforting nurses here at BRRH as she was receiving her CT scan and getting evaluated, that the experience made her identify nursing as the career path she wants to pursue. This is profound, and a wonderful example of how deeply the care of nurses touches patients.
There has never been a more appropriate time to thank our nurses for the tremendous gifts they so freely give to each and every patient. They deserve our respect and admiration in addition to our gratitude for the many roles they fill, from caregiver to advocate, and protector to friend.
Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Hale is a proven leader with more than 32 years of progressive healthcare experience. A native of East Tennessee, she holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Walters State Community College, a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University, and a doctor of nursing practice degree in executive leadership from East Tennessee State University. Ms. Hale is currently a resident of Burnsville.