UNSUNG HEROES 2022
“ Tough times don ’ t last , but tough healthcare workers do .”
going to take care of the first COVIDpositive patient ,” Willis said . “ So many emotions ran through my mind . One of the first things being : How do I handle this ? Do I remember everything that I was supposed to do ? Every piece of PPE , am I putting it on appropriately ? Am I wearing it appropriately ? I ’ m fixing to go home after my shift is over and I want to be careful not to transmit anything to anyone else or my coworkers ,” Willis continued when thinking back to that time .
“ There ’ s a lot of apprehension and fear that comes along with that ,” he added , before stating , “ I actually went to the bathroom and called my pastor and had him pray with me over the phone .”
Despite those worries , Willis said he felt he was provided every resource he needed along with the support of other hospital staff . For example , Willis can recall Baptist ’ s education department being very active , training staff on the proper use of personal protective equipment ( PPE ) and what all they would be facing . He remembers nurse educators on the floor every day helping to ensure staff were up-to-date with isolation protocols resulting from the pandemic .
“ I would say that as time has progressed and we ’ ve taken care of numerous COVID patients , that fear and anxiety has gotten much better as we begin to understand the disease process , we begin to take the isolation precautions as a second nature . We just realize what we have to do and we just jump in and do it ,” Willis explained . “ So those things have improved , but those feelings will probably never fade from memory .”
To cope with the increased need for hospital beds , Willis said Baptist Health Corbin adopted alternate models of nursing care , including the use of team nursing . Through team nursing , Willis said the hospital would pull members from other departments to assist in areas where more patients were being seen .
“ We teamed up and we took on extra work , but it was all with the common goal of making sure we took care of the people in our community ,” Willis said , noting that by implementing team nursing , the hospital was less dependent on traveling nurses .
As a member of the Critical Care Resource Council , Willis stays in constant communication with ICU directors from other hospitals . Through his conversations Willis said he ’ s learned that like Baptist , other hospitals are also dealing with attending to the mental health of their healthcare providers . Willis said he considered the mental health of medical professionals one of the most unrecognizable challenges born from the pandemic .
“ Unless you are in this setting , it is very difficult to realize that toll that a pandemic can take on your personal mental health ,” he said . “ I mean that as in we have taken care of people we know . We have taken care of community members , family members , and we have gotten to the point where we have literally taken care of our own coworkers on ventilators who have had COVID .”
While the toll the pandemic is taking on healthcare providers may get lost on the public , Willis said hospital officials are mindful of it and are taking steps to help their staff . Willis said the hospital has started to provide counselors who visit nursing stations during work hours and are on-hand for employees wishing to speak more privately . Willis said the hospital has even gone as far as helping their staff get in-touch with outside mental-health providers and that it provides “ several free sessions ” for its staff .
With everything facing healthcare providers , it would be easy to question why one would stay in that line of work .
“ We ’ ve addressed that with our staff here ,” Willis responded when asked what motivated him to stay in the healthcare field and what kept him motivated . “ How do we keep retention ? How do we keep people showing up in the midst of a healthcare war ? I mean at times it ’ s almost been like a war zone ,” he added .
For Willis , he said he felt a sense of devotion and dedication to the people of Baptist Health Corbin . After all , it is the place he started his career and they are the people who “ have stuck by me through 13 years of practice ,” he said . Willis said he also felt a sense of dedication and obligation as a nurse who has taken an oath to ensure the health of his fellow community members .
“ I feel at times it ’ s important to remain optimistic . If you look throughout history , people have been faced with pandemics ,” he said . “ Have they went on for a while ? Yes . Have they been detrimental ? Yes . But do they end ? Yes ,” he continued . “ I think that ’ s what keeps me motivated to show up everyday - the hope that things are not always going to be this way .”
It also helps when you work alongside people you consider heroes . Willis said he is constantly amazed by the dedication , resilience , perseverance and hard work put in by his fellow healthcare providers throughout the pandemic .
“ That ’ s what I ’ m recognizing everyday is how tough the staff here are ,” he said . “ They amaze me every shift that they show up and are ready to work no matter what happened the day before , no matter how many hours they had to stay past their shift , but they ’ re right back here the next morning to take care of our community .”
Or simply put by Willis , “ Tough times don ’ t last , but tough healthcare workers do .”