Patients dying almost daily on Marshfield Clinic COVID unit, nurse pleads with public to stop the spread

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 6:42 PM CST
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) - As of Thursday throughout Marshfield Clinic’s nine hospitals, 135 or about a quarter of their patients are there because of COVID-19. Almost half (58) are at Marshfield Medical Center, about 35 of which are on the 6th North Medical Unit, now the COVID unit. Heather Storch is the nurse manager on that floor.

“Patients are dying almost every day on our unit and that is something that we have not had to deal with in the past,” she said.

During the first several months of the pandemic, the number of patients coming into the hospital for COVID-19 care was manageable, Storch explained.

“Yes, we were scared,” she said. “We didn’t want to take this home to our families, but the nursing staff just stepped up.”

They stripped off their clothes outside their homes and showered before seeing their families when they got home. They stressed about finding child care. They were learning about the disease in real-time.

Hospital leaders met daily to come up with plans watching as other states saw surges overwhelm their hospitals. In just the last few weeks, those plans went into play.

“We could handle up to four patients in our negative pressure rooms and they said, ‘well, we need to go beyond that.’ So we said, ‘okay, one half of our hall,’ so half of our patients would be COVID positive,” she recalled. “Then, that Monday came, and like I said, it’s like two weeks ago if I remember right, and patients just kept coming.”

They began doubling up patient rooms, adding beds to the COVID unit as other patients around the hospital left. They brought their patient bed capacity up from 28 to 50 on her floor. She explained they double up to try to keep the COVID unit isolated from the other parts of the hospital as much as possible not only for exposure purposes but staff and equipment resources too.

They are currently making plans to begin doubling up on another floor, but she said they are running out of staff to care for patients even with pulling from outside resources and repurposing staff.

“It’s going to get to a point where we can’t care for all of these patients and there’s going to be many ethical decisions as health care workers that we have to make of who we can treat with what equipment we have and we do not want to get to that point,” she urged.

She said it is causing nurses to work 16 hours shifts, the maximum they can work, 10 days in a row.

“At the end of their shift, they know if there’s (sic) not enough nurses for that next shift, they feel that guilt,” she said.

These patients need a lot of time and attention from staff too because she said they are a lot sicker than most patients that typically end up in the hospital. What little treatments there are, are intensive, with many on high-flow oxygen, Vapotherm, BiPAP, Remdesivir, convalescent plasma, antibiotics, and steroids. She said it is a lot for nurses to monitor for each patient and so they need to be hyper-focused on each patient.

“These patients can turn on a dime with their respiratory status,” she said. “You can have somebody talking to you one minute and fine and the next minute they could be coding.”

Hospitals are not allowing visitor except when a patient is about to die and patients that end up in the hospital with COVID-19 do not leave quickly; they are there for weeks. So, she said the nursing staff get close to patients, filling a family emotional support role as they physically care for their disease. She said it makes it that much harder when patients take a turn.

“Last week was probably one of the hardest days,” Storch began. One of her nurses’ grandfather landed in a Canadian hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Well, unfortunately, that was the day that she also had a patient that wasn’t doing well,” she said. “She had a patient that passed away and not long after her patient passed away, she got a text from her mother that her grandfather passed away. So at the same time she was struggling to deal with her own emotions with taking care of her own patient, she found out that her own grandfather died probably at the same time.”

“It’s just heart-wrenching and to watch my nurses and they’re in nursing for a reason. We do everything we can for our patients, but I’m afraid of what’s going to happen when this is all over with how much of a toll emotionally this is going to leave on nurses,” she noted.

On her drive home, she said she notices parking lots of businesses filled with cars and she notices people not wearing masks in public or taking them off after going through checkpoints. She is pleading with the public to take the pandemic seriously, change holiday celebrations so they do not spread COVID-19 unknowingly, and follow the safety precautions.

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