Pandemic brings Hillcrest Claremore med-surg unit together

Like many of their colleagues, everyday life changed for the Hillcrest Hospital Claremore med-surg unit when the COVID-19 virus arrived at its door in 2020.

An unexpected shutdown, increased patient loads, juggling staff schedules and dealing with the unknown from a pandemic were just a few of the hurdles the team faced. But through it all, the unit, with the help of countless others, not only met those challenges, but also persevered and the bond between the team grew tighter.

“It does bring us more together as a team,” said Molly Waltman, BSN, RN, med-surg supervisor. “We’re a family here at Claremore. That’s one reason we like working here, because we take care of each other.”

One of the early obstacles was a significant logistical shift. The bottom floor of Hillcrest Claremore was transported into a COVID unit as the team had to learn new procedures and practices in real time with the pandemic evolving in front of their eyes.

In the face of adversity, the med-surg unit showed resiliency.

“Everybody stepped up,” said Michelle Green, BSN, RN, med-surg manager. “We rotated all the nurses out. Everybody worked out there. It was a very difficult time for us. It was a trying time. It was new to everybody.”

With restricted contact between patients and their loved ones, many providers took on a unique role.

“They had to be the family member the patient needed, plus the nurse they needed,” said Paula Hirsch, RN, med-surg supervisor. “It was just a lot of dedication to that patient.”

Green said, “We did a lot of FaceTime with patients and their families. We made sure patients were kept company when they were alone on COVID floors.”

Hillcrest Claremore teamed up Utica Park Clinic personnel from Tulsa to administer monoclonal antibody infusions, which gave much-needed relief to numerous COVID patients.

“We’ve seen a lot of people who have gotten the infusions and it helped them feel better the next day,” Green said.

The team made a positive difference despite unprecedented circumstances during the pandemic. But their impact would not have been possible without the help of their colleagues and others around the community.

To keep up with rising personal protective equipment (PPE) demands, colleagues sewed hats and constructed homemade gowns out of tablecloths. A Claremore paint company brought in 100s of industrial respirators.

Staff members also commended Hillcrest Claremore management for continually going the extra mile throughout the pandemic.

“Our upper management has been very adaptable to change,” Green said. “They have been very supportive of us and made sure everybody felt safe.”

Whether it was colleagues lending a helping hand or community members coming through with some much-needed assistance, continuing patient care throughout the pandemic has required a can-do attitude from everyone in the unit.

“Sometimes there were nurses that had to work shift after shift,” Waltman said. “But that was just something we did. Because we’re family here.”