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Local hospital staff rise to the occasion of pandemic

Healthcare workers at Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields have faced the overwhelming demands of the COVID-19 pandemic without becoming overwhelmed, according to one administrator. 

It hasn’t been easy.

In a recent interview with the Chronicle, Mari Lynn Ross, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer at Franciscan Health’s Olympia Fields hospital, said the staff was bearing up well.

“It’s been hard on every discipline. It’s scary. You can’t see it. This is something they never teach you in school,” she said. “Nobody has ever lived through this before.” COVID-19 is the worst pandemic in generations.

Because of the hospital’s location in southern Cook County, where the virus has been especially prevalent, the Olympia Fields facility has had more cases than other hospitals in the Franciscan system.

The hospital saw a spike in COVID-19 patients early on, but in recent weeks the numbers have stabilized, she said, noting that they were seeing about 10 or so new COVID-19 patients per day and that at one point about half of the hospital’s patients being treated for effects of the virus. At the time, elective surgeries were suspended by executive order from the governor.

Ross said staff efforts and community have risen to the occasion. 

Staff have had to take extraordinary precautions at work and at home, she said. 
Separate units were created for COVID-19 patients, and personal protective equipment (PPE) — masks, face shields, gloves and gowns — have to be worn at all times when treating those patients. 

“We had to ramp up relatively quickly, making sure all staff were properly trained on the type of protection that was needed,” she said. 

Some of the changes in procedure include doing things virtually when possible. Nurse practitioners were assigned to communicate with families of patients so nurses would not have to come in and out of the room as often.

That’s a difficult role because families are frightened for their loved one and frustrated that they can’t visit in person. The staff sympathizes with their plight.

“I have an 86-year-old mother I haven’t seen in a few months, and a brand new grandbaby I held once,” she said. “Everybody has challenges.”

Ross said the situation has affected not just doctors and nurses but the whole staff.
The hospital’s employee assistance program has had to do more to help staff with mental and emotional health during the weeks of high stress and fatigue.

And getting enough PPE when there are worldwide shortages has been difficult.
“The supply chain guys, they rock,” Ross said.

The hospital has gotten help, too, from the community, with volunteers bringing donated PPE supplies and meals for staff.

“The outpouring of love from the community has been a real morale boost,” she said.

That boost is needed, because the pandemic is not over, and while the number of patients has stabilized, it hasn’t started to go down.”

Ross said there are still some people who seem not to recognize the seriousness of the situation and the importance of social distancing practices.

“When I see people without masks it’s a little disheartening,” she said. The state has since made wearing masks mandatory in public where social distancing is not possible.

“In order to get the economy back to where we need to be, we need to follow these restrictions,” she said. “We want nothing more than to take care of our patients and get everybody well.”

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