by Alice Manning Touchette
March 13, 2020, is a day Robbie Price will always remember. “We had to move quickly,” he says. “We set up a STIP tent, a high grade ‘shelter and treat in place’ tent, to station our emergency room nurses outside to triage incoming patients.”
COVID-19 was shutting the country down, but as managing director of Emergency Services at Centra, he and his team were ramping up for what was to come. “I’m really proud of our team and the collaboration across the system—pharmacy, IT, nursing, materials management, food services—we all had to adapt to provide the same quality care outside as inside,” he says.
In Lynchburg, healthcare and social assistance professionals make up 23.1% of the workforce. Many in the area are employed by Centra, which serves more than 500,000 people throughout central and southern Virginia, providing care for communities in 70 locations. In this past extraordinary year, its more than 7,700 employees have shown tremendous agility, stamina, and courage in addition to performing their jobs. Their purpose: care for the community where they live and work, come what may.
Comfort During Uncertainty
In the past year, a lot has been asked of emergency health care providers. In addition to their integral role stabilizing patients, they also comfort patients who are not allowed to have a family member or friend with them because of the pandemic.
“The emergency room is a scary time for patients,” says Price. “Our staff shined and got creative with phones and Facetime so that patients could stay in contact with their loved ones and not feel alone.”
Before becoming director of Emergency Services, Price was a nurse practitioner, a role he still assumes two shifts a month.
“All nurses are resilient,” he says. “They get discouraged, but they bounce right back and it doesn’t impact the care they give their patients. They’re compassionate and empathetic. They’re experts.”
The nurses’ devotion has not gone unnoticed. During the pandemic, businesses and churches brought meals and cards to the hospital workers, and the Lynchburg community has rallied to show their support for health care workers.
“The ‘thank yous’ from patients mean a lot to us, and we’re grateful for heightened awareness around the comprehensive, quality care that we provide,” says Price, who encourages the community to stay vigilant and get vaccinated.
Continuity of Care
Closing during the pandemic was never an option for the Centra Stoobants Cardiovascular Center.
“People need to come in and talk with their cardiologist. They are still having heart attacks and heart procedures,” says Corrin McCloskey, business strategist for the Cardiovascular Center. “I want the community to know that we are open and here for you.”
The cardio group has met the pandemic challenge of reducing patient exposure by increasing telehealth care and creating drive-thru clinics for patients who need weekly blood draws.
“These are just a few examples of how we’ve been inventive to provide the best care for our patients,” says McCloskey. “We will continue to show up and do the work.”
As an administrator, McCloskey is also focused on caring for the caregivers, and making sure they have what they need to do their best work.
“These caregivers are so selfless, leaving their own families and issues to take care of the heart and vascular care in our community,” says McCloskey. “I can help the caregiver so they can do their jobs and help the patients. That’s the most rewarding part for me. I get to see clinicians lead in a way that improves health care for our community.”
Caring for the Caregivers
Having a healthy community is what drives Timothy Schoonmaker, system director for Centra Food Services, executive chef for Centra Culinary Creations, and director for Centra Rosemary and the George Dawson Inn.
“We celebrate over food, we mourn over food … food is a huge part of everyone’s life,” says Schoonmaker. “Our number one concern is putting the patient at ease through food and providing nutritional options for our staff.”
The around-the-clock business of feeding patients and caregivers did not stop with the pandemic. Food plays a central role in community health and disease management, and Schoonmaker’s team works to make sure there are no gaps in food service for patients and staff.
“With all of the limitations that were put in place, we figured out how to do the best for our caregivers,” says Schoonmaker. “We created to-go meals and meal kits. And for the staff working on COVID floors who aren’t allowed to leave during their shifts, we provide a variety of healthy and comfort food meals.”
In addition, they set up on-site Centra Markets, self-serving, socially distant mini-grocery stores that are stocked with a good variety of essentials. The idea is to make it convenient for hospital visitors and works to obtain staples without having to make another stop at the store on the way home.
Schoonmaker also works to care for the entire Nutritional Services Team. “It’s a huge responsibility to keep them safe and calm,” he says. “It’s not just enhancing our cleaning and adapting our work flows in the kitchen, it’s listening to staff about their issues with childcare, online learning, and all the challenges they face outside of the kitchen.”
COVID-19 is now part of the new normal at Centra, and Schoonmaker feels confident that his team will continue to serve the community and its caregivers.
“As a chef and a director, I’m proud,” he says. “Our biggest accomplishment is coming through all of this with an in-tact team that continues to adapt and make the health care system work for the community.”
Alice Manning Touchette is a writer based in Raleigh, N.C. and the senior writer-editor at Manning Words.