Sansum Clinic’s Jennifer McGahey, RN.
Sansum Clinic’s Jennifer McGahey, RN helps patients get triaged and tested for COVID-19, and offers instruction on how to prevent viral spread. (Sansum Clinic photo)

While these days are nerve-wracking for many people, those on the frontlines of healthcare face even more uncertainty.

Nurses are taking on new roles and learning skills to serve patients and the community.

For example, registered nurse Jennifer McGahey, RN the primary care service line manager for Sansum Clinic, has worked as a nurse for 18 years.

Normally, her job is to meet with site managers and doctors to work on goals that will contribute to quality care. However, her priorities have changed.

“COVID-19 has changed my work enormously,” she says. “I totally had to pivot in a different direction. I had to pivot to more of a clinical perspective, developing work flows, getting patients triaged and tested for COVID, also providing education after results come back about how to protect themselves, how to protect others in order to prevent the spread of the virus, and how to manage symptoms at home.”

Leslie Colvin, RN works in Sansum Clinic’s Patient Access Call Center.

Leslie Colvin, RN works in Sansum Clinic’s Patient Access Call Center and speaks to the flood of people ringing in daily with questions about COVID-19. (Sansum Clinic photo)

The resources McGahey offers patients include explaining the importance of staying home when sick, calling a healthcare provider if symptoms worsen, staying in a room away from others in the same household, and cleaning all surfaces in the home on a regular basis.

McGahey says she empathizes with people who are coping with the changes brought on by COVID-19.

“My advice would be to stay the course,” McGahey says. “Remember it’s temporary. But, in the meantime, just continue to take care of yourself and limit your exposure to others. I totally believe social distancing is benefitting others.”

She has been impressed with the nursing staff at Sansum Clinic.

“I’m seeing nurses come from the surgical department to help with triage,” she says. “They’re chipping in. They’re volunteering to take on extra workload and help our patients. It’s what we live for, to be honest.”

McGahey’s colleague, Leslie Colvin, RN, is a triage nurse at Sansum’s Patient Access Call Center. She has been a nurse for 22 years. Her job is critical as a flood of patients ring in daily with questions about COVID-19.

During calls, patients often share their symptoms. Staff members pass that information along to doctors who then connect with patients. Recognizing symptoms is crucial to deciding which course of action to take.

“We have a screening tool that we use, provided by the public health department,” Colvin says. “If a patient’s complaint is a cough or any of the symptoms in the screening tool, we go through all of it and ask the questions. Then we actually enter a referral for them to be tested.”

With COVID-19 being a serious concern, the staff is on alert for red flags.

“Occasionally patients will call in asking for an appointment and say they’re having chest pain,” Colvin says. “It could be a heart attack, so they do a live transfer call to me.”

While some patients are still coming to the doctor’s office for essential, in-person appointments, Sansum Clinic’s Telehealth program has become the ideal and safe way for thousands of patients to connect with their healthcare providers, to avoid exposure to potential infection.

Colvin’s advice to people dealing with stress brought on by COVID-19 is to meditate, dance, and laugh every day.

“It can just be listening to the birds singing and breathing in and out and relaxing,” she said. “Because we can’t go to the gym right now and relax through exercise, there can be a lot of tension that builds up in the body. I’ve found that putting on some music that makes me want to dance for 5 to 10 minutes every day can help relieve tension.”

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