Although the COVID-19 pandemic has presented Loring Hospital with a number of unique and unprecedented challenges over the past several weeks, it has also brought the hospital together in more ways than one to work as an effective and unified team. Loring Hospital medical professionals and staff have united like never before, rising up to the challenges without hesitation.
Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic started gaining rapid national momentum in early March, the hospital spurred into action and implemented its Incident Command team to predict and respond to all possible scenarios related to the pandemic.
“Although everyone’s lifestyles and work schedules have been thrown up in the air, the entire Loring team has been willing and receptive to rolling with the punches and taking one day at a time,” said Stacy Johnson, chief executive officer, chief financial officer and incident commander at Loring Hospital. “It’s been amazing to see real teamwork at play when everything else is causing so much anxiety during this time.”
Loring’s quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Following direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), Loring Hospital moved swiftly to proactively protect patients, staff and the community. One of the first measures the hospital executed was alternative entrances where everyone is screened upon entry for fever and respiratory symptoms. The hospital also adapted work flows, reserved rooms specifically for respiratory testing purposes, and designated waiting rooms for healthy and sick patients. Most recently, the hospital implemented a no visitor policy and a universal masking requirement.
“When you start to get anxious about being in a pandemic, you focus on ‘What can you do to effectively prepare?’ And we have done that well,” said Kara Wellington, chief clinical officer and operations chief. “Each week that goes along, we add another layer to the preparation.”
Though Loring Hospital has not yet had an influx of COVID-19 patients, all members of the Incident Command team feel the hospital as a whole is prepared to handle such a situation.
“I really feel that we’re ready for whatever may come our way,” said Becky Pontious, human resources director and liaison officer. “That’s a good, calming feeling to have.”
Daily COVID-19 huddles were also immediately put into place to keep up with the ever-changing information and to encourage open communication between all staff.
“Open and frequent communication has been key,” said Wellington. “It provides a level of comfort and encourages staff to offer input and be a part of the decision making process.”
Teamwork and cross-training
In mid-March, Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds expanded the state’s public health emergency proclamation, halting non-essential and elective surgical procedures and treatments. This decision put Loring Hospital’s Labor Pool into motion, which is an initiative that was started to ensure all employees continue to receive pay amid the national crisis. The Labor Pool reorganizes employees in departments that have slowed so they can help out in other ways, while making sure staff is staggered so, if the pandemic strikes at Loring Hospital, not everyone is exposed at the same time.
“Everybody’s got each other’s backs,” said Amy von Glan, rehab tech and leader of the Labor Pool. “They understand that, yes, you may have to do something out of your comfort zone. They also know it’s not going to last forever, and that this is a difficult time for everybody.”
“It excites me to see how so many employees have stepped up and taken on new responsibilities,” added Kathy Winchester, materials management and logistics officer. “It has challenged our hospital and shown some very shining stars.”
Finding light in a stressful situation
Hospital employees are also making the most of the pandemic by finding ways to brighten each other’s days. From departments creating colorful displays throughout the hospital to an all-staff pizza lunch, an organized game room, and a happy hour complete with appetizers and “mocktails,” everyone is working to find light in a stressful situation.
“Everyone has stepped up in some way or another to help boost morale,” said Pontious
Loring and our community - working together
Nicole Wiggins, infection preventionist and planning chief, says though the hospital has a “good supply” of personal protective equipment, she and everyone else at Loring have been blown away by the community’s outpouring of donations and support.
“The community has helped us out a great deal with homemade mask donations, gowns, food and other items,” she said. “We’re all very grateful.”
The pandemic has also strengthened relationships between Loring Hospital and other area healthcare facilities including affiliate hospitals, nursing homes, Sac County Public Health, Emergency Medical Services and Sac County Emergency Management.
“We’ve come together to work as a team for our entire community,” said Wellington. “We’ve exchanged valuable information, skills and good conversations between one another.”
Steps going forward
In early May, in response to new guidelines presented by Governor Reynolds, Loring Hospital started phasing in non-emergent and elective procedures while keeping the health and safety of all top of mind.
“We are looking forward to increasing service access in a responsible way,” said Johnson. “As some elective procedures are resumed, an emphasis will continue to keep precautions in place to protect our patients, staff and community.”
The entire Incident Command team is confident in Loring Hospital’s strategy to return back to normal operations and its continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as Iowa continues to open back up, the team stresses the importance of continuing to follow CDC and IDPH guidelines.
“Reinforcing social distancing and respecting and following the measures that are put in place continue to be very important,” said Wiggins. “It not only helps those of us at the hospital but everyone in Sac County.”
Although there are still a number of uncertainties that lie ahead, the team remains optimistic and chooses to find the silver linings in the situation.
“I think it’s important to focus on the positive things this experience has given us, such as more concentrated family time, rather than the things it has taken from us,” said Wellington.
Wiggins added, “We’ve all been forced to slow down a bit, which is something we can all benefit from.”