MASON CITY, Iowa - Those in the healthcare field have been on the frontlines of the pandemic from the very start. For those at MercyOne North Iowa, a new statue is being dedicated for those who have put in hard work over the course of the last year.
At the start of the pandemic, Director of Critical Care and Nursing Administration Emily Orton says there was some concern about what the community would look like if hit by the virus, not being able to anticipate how sick patients could be, and how hospital staff would respond to the challenge, especially if people tested positive or experienced symptoms and lead to a staffing shortage.
"Our senior leadership did a phenomenal job of making sure we had what we needed. We had ordered 50 cappers helmets, new isolation gowns. Travelers were coming to us saying, 'you have great PPE, we're going to stay!'"
Director of Women's and Children's Services Linda Latham says a lot of careful thought, consideration and planning went into developing plans to adhere to CDC guidelines.
"Our quality here at MercyOne is so high, and we didn't want anything to jeopardize that."
Throughout the last 14 months, Orton and Latham say it was truly a team effort to get through the worst of the virus' impact, including the October surge.
"There were people from the cath lab who helped linen, fold laundry to help meet that demand. People from interventional radiology came and worked in our supply chain, helped meet the needs of us needing supplies. Respiratory therapy, nursing, our providers, dieticians," Orton says.
"It was a multi-disciplinary team, our whole house helped," Latham adds.
As part of National Nurses Week and National Hospital Week, a Healer's Touch statue was dedicated outside the hospital Monday afternoon. It honors the countless hours and sacrifices healthcare workers have made since the start of the pandemic. The statue was hand carved out of a 350-lb. rock by an artist from the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, and will be on display in the hospital's front lobby.
Chief Nursing Officer Kim Chamberlin says the idea for the statue came from a smaller version of a statue that's issued to nurses during the monthly 'DAISY' award.
"It's a symbol of what all our colleagues do. They're all such healers, and they're all so compassionate and dedicated. I got to thinking, 'we've got to do something to commemorate this year', and we need something we can, touch, see, and can say, 'we survived.'"
Echoing Latham's comments, Chamberlin says it took a collaborative effort.
"They knew what they had to do, and they did it. They did so much more than just doing it. They showed up every day, they put their own personal lives at risk, they put their own personal fears at risk. They took care of our patients. They came from the clinics, every nook and cranny of the hospital when we hit our surge in October. They are truly heroes, in my mind. We could not have survived without them."
However, Chamberlin notes that we need to take care of our healthcare workers.
"There's already studies of the effect this will have on healthcare. It could be close to PTSD, like being on a battlefield. And it was. We really have to take care of them now, and make sure they're OK."
As to the future of what the hospital workforce may look like? Latham and Orton say it's getting better, thanks in part due to vaccinations increasing,
"Is there ever going to be a normal? I don't know. I feel it's gotten a lot better since we got vaccinated. We're providing the same PPE for our COVID patients, so that hasn't changed. Now, it's second nature. It does feel better," Latham says.
"As time moves on and we know more about the virus, if we have someone who has tested positive twice in the last 90 days and they're not symptomatic, we know we don't have to start over with the 14 days of isolation again. As we know more about the virus, I really hope more of the community will get on board to get vaccinated," Orton says.
During the dedication ceremony, MercyOne North Iowa President Rod Schlader noted that about 1,000 people that came to the hospital for COVID-19 symptom treatment have been successfully discharged over the last 14 months.