FARGO — They’ve been on the front lines since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area in mid-March.
As events were canceled, businesses were shut down and many people began working from home, these employees of hospitals, health care clinics and long-term care centers ensured that patients, residents and others continued to be cared for and served.
Here are some of their stories.
Registered nurse, intensive care unit, Sanford Broadway Medical Center
Harrington is assigned to Sanford’s COVID-19 special care unit, and said team members must use critical thinking skills each time they prepare to see a patient.
“Once you get gowned up and you’re in the room, there’s no turning around,” she said.
Fortunately, the unit works well together, Harrington said, lending a hand when needed.
If she feels nervous, she reminds herself that her work is the same, whether in the COVID unit or ICU.
“You are doing the same skills every day, just in more PPE (personal protective equipment), more sweating,” she said.
Licensed practical nurse, Sanford South University Medical Center
As part of Sanford’s ambulatory resource team, Pfeifer’s most recent assignment is with the COVID-19 drive-thru testing unit.
She said the operation has grown over the past few weeks, with more patients coming through and more tests being performed.
Because of her close proximity to patients, she wears several layers of PPE.
“I tell people, ‘I’m more protected than you are,’” Pfeifer said.
Registered nurse, Bethany on University
Tolbert made a career change from farming to nursing a while back, and has worked as an RN in the transitional care unit of Bethany on University for six years.
He helps seniors through rehabilitation after they’ve had surgery or an injury. Since the start of the pandemic, the volume of patients coming through the TCU is up about fourfold because everyone must be screened for COVID-19 first, Tolbert said.
Though it means extra work, it’s what he signed up for.
“I feel like I'm in the right place doing the right thing at the right time,” he said.
Certified nursing assistant/certified medical assistant, Bethany on University
Kupfer grew up in Vietnam and came to the U.S. as a young adult. Now, at age 40, she’s spent the last 18 years working at Bethany on University.
The biggest challenge of the pandemic, she said, has been keeping residents in their rooms rather than allowing them to socialize, in an effort to prevent the spread of infection.
She said they have a good team at Bethany and everyone works hard.
“We love our residents a lot and keep everybody happy,” Kupfer said.
Respiratory therapy supervisor, Essentia Health
Kautzman typically works with COVID-19 patients who are more critically ill; for example, those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
Patients who need to be put on a ventilator are advised that it’s hopefully a short-term measure, while the sickest patients are informed of all the possible outcomes, including that they may not come off the ventilator or will require a tracheostomy, he said.
Kautzman said of the pandemic, “It’s uncharted territory.”
Hospitalist physician, Essentia Health
As a hospitalist at Essentia, Gravning cares for adult patients in the hospital setting only.
She has treated patients with COVID-19 but lately has seen a different surge — those with chronic diseases who’ve been afraid to seek care during the pandemic. Now, some are really sick, she said.
Gravning, who lives in Mandan, was home for only 10 days in the month of April, and her children, ages 6 and 4, miss her.
“But they also know what Mom’s doing,” she said.
Flight paramedic, Sanford AirMed
His job of treating patients onboard an aircraft remains the same, but safety precautions have expanded with COVID-19.
“Many of our patients are sedated and intubated, so they don’t know any difference,” Werre said.
The AirMed team is still responding to serious injuries, illnesses and accidents, even as life has slowed down during the pandemic.
It’s important to be even more cautious, he said, treating each patient as if they have the virus.
Guest services manager, Sanford Fargo
Many milestones happen in hospitals, and families expect to be there for loved ones, Hames said.
That’s why a restriction on visitors has been one of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic.
Some of those rules have since been lifted at Sanford, allowing families to reconnect.
“Our hospitals are still safe. Our clinics are still safe. And we’re taking precautions so that they stay that way,” Hames said.
Certified nurse midwife, Sanford Family Birth Center
Pregnant women are still getting the kind of education and encouragement from Sanford during the pandemic as they do otherwise, Powell said.
Taking care of a patient who has COVID-19 requires additional protective gear, she said, but much of the care feels the same. Powell said she’ll support her patients, no matter the situation.
“This is why I’m a midwife, because I’m here to help,” she said.
Licensed practical nurse, treatment nurse, Eventide Fargo
Amedy began working at the long-term care center eight years ago, when he was just 16.
He said some residents have been able to beat COVID-19, allowing them to celebrate with “victory laps.”
The staff at Eventide is tech savvy, he said, helping residents connect with families through calls and video during this time of limited visitation.
“These go a long way, but nothing beats the warmth or comfort when somebody is in your presence and you’re able to go ahead and share a hug,” Amedy said.
Resident care manager/registered nurse, Eventide Fargo
Nurses and CNAs tend to like having a daily routine, Heppner said, but the pandemic has forced them to adapt to ever-changing safety guidelines for long-term care.
It can be challenging to keep the positivity going for staff under threat of a dangerous virus. The same is true for residents, when no visitors are allowed in.
Eventide has held superhero, mismatched and funny hair days, to bring some fun and lighten the mood, she said.
Pharmacist, Sanford Medical Center Fargo
The pandemic has brought change to some pharmacy operations, Ezenwoye said.
Prescriptions for patients leaving the hospital are being handled over the phone and staff take the medication down to the patient discharge area or nurses' desk.
Everyone is washing their hands, wearing masks and taking the necessary precautions.
“There’s no fear because everyone is doing their best,” Ezenwoye said.
Chef supervisor, Sanford Broadway Medical Center
The pandemic forced changes in rules and protective measures for Sanford food service workers, but employees have been very accepting of them, Short said.
Even though the disruption was unexpected, staff is handling it well.
“In the food service industry, you just roll with the punches as they come,” Short said.
Registered nurse, intensive care unit, Essentia Health
Gilbertson is comfortable caring for critically ill patients, some with COVID-19, because he has the proper protective gear.
Going out in public — to the grocery store, for example — is another matter.
While he wears a mask, he sees plenty of people who don’t, and he worries about bringing the virus home to his family, including five young children.
Gilbertson said he won’t try to impose his will on others, unless they’re his patient and he knows it will do them good.
“At the same time, you want that, you wish that,” he said, about people wearing masks.
Lead child life specialist, Sanford Children’s Hospital
Many patients at Sanford Children’s have been isolated to their rooms during the pandemic, so Easter and her team have brought playtime to their bedsides.
Children can be overwhelmed by the sight of masks and face shields worn by staff, so some of the team are wearing badges with larger photos of their smiling faces.
“We’re taking time to tell them we’re doing this to keep them safe and keep ourselves safe,” Easter said.
Registered nurse/charge nurse, infusion center, Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center
It’s important that patients stay on track with their cancer treatments, and multiple checks are in place at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center to keep them safe during the pandemic, Carlon said.
Patients are screened first over the phone and again at the entrance when they arrive for their appointment, and everyone in the center wears masks.
“We want the best for our patients and we want everyone to stay healthy,” Carlon said.