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IN IT TOGETHER: Supporting our team in an uncertain time

Posted May 5th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: Supporting our team in an uncertain time

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Sandy Harte, a Wellness Nurse.

It’s the unknowns of COVID-19 that concerns Sandy Harte the most – both personally and professionally.

Sandy’s granddaughter, who was born in January, requires follow-up assessments, which is done through Skype, and also could need surgery. “It’s sometimes hard to offer support to my daughter who is concerned about her new baby,” says Sandy. “If my granddaughter needs surgery, what would that look like in this day of COVID?”

Sandy is also part of the Niagara Health Occupational Health and Safety Team focused on keeping staff and physicians safe during the pandemic. That work includes following up with Niagara Health team members who may have been exposed to COVID-19, arranging for testing, informing them of their test results and supporting them throughout the process. “I feel for every team member I talk to,” says Sandy. “I try to bring hope to people. But there are so many unknowns about the virus.”

Sandy, who has more than 32 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in a wide range of roles, normally works as a wellness nurse, supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of staff. During the pandemic, her work has shifted to an occupational health focus, but the support she provides as a wellness nurse is interwoven into that role.

How has your role changed during the pandemic?

With the pandemic, I find I am still doing the mental wellness support because people are concerned. But the focus is more on the occupational health side. We arrange testing for COVID-19 for staff, as does the staff screening hot line. These are people who have COVID symptoms or have been involved in an exposure. When there is an outbreak on a hospital unit, we follow up with staff and physicians who may have been exposed to someone who has the virus. I call them to tell them their test results, and provide support to them whether their test results are positive or negative.

What is the process for determining which team members may been exposed to COVID-19 at the hospital?

We look to see who has had contact with the infected patient or staff member. We look at all of the schedules, we look to see all potential contacts. If it’s a staff member who tested positive, we call them and ask if they remember being in contact with anyone without PPE (personal protective equipment.) It’s what’s called an epi-link. We call everyone who may have come in contact with the person. Based on their level of exposure and symptoms, recommendations may include self-isolating, monitoring for symptoms and testing, if appropriate. We support them throughout and check in on them regularly. We also work closely with our Infection Prevention and Control team and Niagara Region Public Health.

Describe a typical day during the pandemic?

We’re working long days, typically beginning at 8 a.m. and staying until 9 p.m. We stay until we get our calls done to staff. These are people awaiting their results, waiting to hear back from us. We also answer their general questions and concerns about COVID, whether they’re sent through our staff screening hotline or the ones that come directly to our Occupational Health office. We respond to people as quickly as we can.

What’s the most challenging part professionally working during the pandemic?

What is very difficult is staying on top of the changes to guidelines on how to best to support our staff. Every day there are a number of changes that happen, to follow best practices and to do what is best for both the organization and the employees. As we learn more about COVID, our approach to it changes. Our job is to help staff understand the changes.

How do you alleviate people’s concerns?

COVID has affected us all in some way, and in my role as Wellness Nurse, I daily help people work through fear reminding them it’s not a real thing but rather an emotion. An emotion can be changed. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that (with my granddaughter) and just trust that every healthcare professional is doing the very best that they can and trust in the processes to help put that emotion into perspective again.

Describe working with your team?

We have an amazing team. Everybody works together. Our senior leaders, our directors and managers, are always providing the team a lot of support. We are in this together and it’s really a phenomenal team.

Click on the In It Together button below to read more stories about our team.

Niagara Health System