Healthcare workers collaborate to meet ICU demands

As an emergency department nurse at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and a former paramedic, Rob Kroetsch is at home in fast-paced and demanding environments. So when the intensive care unit (ICU) needed help caring for the increasing number of COVID-19 patients, he agreed without hesitation to be redeployed.

“With the way the world is right now, you just want to help wherever you can and hit the ground running,” Rob says.

The rising number of critically ill COVID-19 patients saw the Grey Nuns Community Hospital expand its ICU capacity from eight beds to 22 and with that came the urgent need for additional staff. Rob is one of about 70 staff who were redeployed to the ICU during the pandemic’s fourth wave.

Charlene Moore, program manager for operative, endoscopy and recovery, co-chaired the staff reassignment at the Grey Nuns hospital throughout the fourth wave. While she says the fourth wave was the most challenging due to the steep increase in patients needing ICU care, watching staff rise to the challenge was rewarding.

“We are so proud of our staff for answering the call,” Charlene says. “We reassigned them to areas they weren’t familiar with, and they worked so hard. We wouldn’t have been able to get through this without them.”

Nurses typically receive specialized training, including mentorships, to prepare for work in an ICU, but as the number of critically ill patients surged during the fourth wave, there wasn’t time for redeployed staff to receive this level of formal training. However, unit staff, leaders and clinical educators made redeployed staff feel as comfortable as possible through customized orientations and buddy shifts.

“I was a bit anxious to start out,” Rob says, remembering his first day in the ICU. “In the ER, we stabilize patients and get them up to the CCU or ICU, but we don’t have that long-term relationship with critical patients.”

Rob, who has been a nurse for 14 years, felt more comfortable on his first day after meeting the ICU team and seeing how the unit worked. He says ICU team members went out of their way to thank redeployed staff and make them feel welcome on the unit.

“Every day I was thanked and told how much they appreciated our help,” Rob recalls. “I learned a ton, and these are people I would now consider friends.”

While the dwindling COVID-19 patient numbers mean his redeployment has ended, the experience has had a lasting impact on Rob. He says one of the toughest parts of working in the ICU was having to interact with family members virtually or over the phone instead of in person, with the exception of end-of-life situations. While staff were committed to keeping families updated and answering their questions, it just wasn’t the same.

“That was hard. It felt less personal, which weighed on staff,” Rob says. “We got into this career to help people and be there for them, and when you can’t, it’s frustrating.”

Laurie Sembaliuk, program manager, critical care and cardiac sciences, says that despite the complex challenges of the fourth wave, watching staff from such diverse clinical backgrounds come together made her extremely proud.

“The fourth wave was the most challenging thing I’ve come across in my career, but to watch frontline staff step up and go the extra mile was awe-inspiring,” Laurie says. “They never faltered to keep the patient at the centre of everything they did.”

Robs says that while working in the ICU presented unique challenges, it gave him the opportunity to step outside his comfort zone, expand his knowledge and see what teams are capable of when they work together, regardless of their backgrounds.

“One thing I really appreciated was how everyone came together and it didn’t matter where you were from in the hospital,” he says. “We’re in this job because we care for human beings, and that really showed. We are here to make sure everyone is looked after no matter what.”

Rob Kroetsch is a nurse and unit manager in the Misericordia Community Hospital emergency department.

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