Asked to pick a place to work during this pandemic, few would choose to be surrounded by people who have COVID-19.

But that is exactly what Lauren Nichol, MSN, RN, chooses—to work in a unit dedicated to the care of patients with the contagious respiratory illness.

“I feel proud to lead a team that provides care for these patients,” Nichol said. “This is what we are trained to do. This is our mission.”

That sense of dedication and pride echoes throughout the staff in Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital’s primary medical-surgical unit for patients battling COVID-19.

“We have such an amazing group of people,” said Bobbi Jo Whitefield, BSN. “We have this ability to work with the ebb and flow of everything that comes our way.”

Whitefield speaks passionately about her commitment to caring for those with COVID-19.

“It is absolutely an honor,” she said. “I feel like God has put me in this place to be able to take care of people.”

Because of a medical condition that required the removal of her spleen 10 years ago, her immune system is vulnerable to respiratory infections. But she does not spend a lot of time worrying about that.

“I can’t let my own fears for myself get in the way of taking care of a patient who truly needs help,” she said. “This is the oath I took as a nurse—to keep patients safe and to help them heal.”

Whitefield and other staff members carefully follow the recommended precautions, such as donning personal protective equipment, to keep themselves and their patients safe.

Kelly Dykstra, RN, a designated “hot zone boss” helps her co-workers follow recommended procedures. She guides and monitors them as they put on and take off masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and other protective gear before and after entering a patient’s room, making sure they do it in the correct way to minimize risk of contamination.

“It is very gratifying doing this job,” Dykstra said. “We definitely love what we do. It means so much to us to see these patients recover enough to be able to go home or to rehab.”

‘Being their light’

Helping those struggling with COVID-19, particularly when hospital visitors are not allowed, requires special sensitivity to emotional needs.

“A lot of these patients are more scared than they’ve ever been,” said nursing technician Dan Bartolovic. “It can be overwhelming for them. It’s good to know I can come in there and brighten up their day and help them get through this experience.”

Sami Toft, RN, agreed.

“It’s more than just helping people. It’s being with them,” she said. “Holding their hand and being there—being their hope, being their light.

“We are human. We are supposed to support each other during these challenging times.”

Respiratory therapist Becky Ullrey, RRT, said her heart goes out to her patients, separated from home and family.

“I want them to feel better,” she said. “I am a comforter by nature. I think all of us are trying to convey that we are there to comfort them, too.”

Ullrey’s first grandchild was born recently. Although she dearly wants to visit and hold the newborn baby girl, she is postponing that while she cares for patients with COVID-19.

“These people need us,” she said. “If I was the one in the hospital, I would want somebody there. The need to serve people keeps me going.”

Jayson Koets, an environmental services technician, takes pride in keeping patient rooms clean and well stocked with supplies.

That’s especially true when he sees a patient recover and get discharged from the hospital.

“I feel I helped out with that part,” he said. “I made sure their room was clean and their stuff was accessible.”

Saraschand Vadlamudi, MD, a hospitalist physician, spoke about his initial concerns when he started working on the unit. With two young children at home, he worried about protecting his family from the virus.

Now, he says, “I feel comfortable. We have enough resources as far as staff and (personal protective equipment). I feel safe and confident taking care of the COVID-19 patients.”

“I’m glad I am able to help patients in need,” he added. “When patients are stable enough for discharge, I am very happy for them.”

The health care team draws strength from the support seen in the community, Nichol said. Thank you signs, chalk messages on the sidewalk and food deliveries all boost morale.

“I hear a lot of our nurses say it feels so good to know the community is keeping an eye on us and really recognizing our work,” she said.

And they draw support from each other, learning together as information about COVID-19 rapidly evolves.

“We are keeping up to date on the latest practices and treatments and we are educating staff about being able to provide care for our patients,” Nichol said.

Staff members across the disciplines respond with enthusiasm and positivity, she said.

“Honestly, I’m impressed every day I come in to work. Everybody seems to be in good spirits for these uncertain times,” she said.

“We all know we will have rough days and may need to lift each other up sometimes. This team is a family and we are going to get through it together.”

“Overall, it is a good feeling, knowing we are on the front line making a difference.”