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Look Who's A Hero Now: Healthcare Workers Redefine Service Beyond The Call Of Duty

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Rutherford Weekly is running this story to thank our healthcare workers. We're always grateful for their service and professionalism, but never quite the way we are now. Thank you so much!

Heroism is being redefined.

From grocery clerks to truck drivers and delivery workers, we are learning a new appreciation for people who make things happen in our lives.

And there is a new and heartfelt appreciation for healthcare workers.

Emergency medical personnel are in daily contact with folks who have been diagnosed with Covid19. Many of the patients have started to recover.

But from doctors' offices, clinics, ambulances and the local hospital, there is a much larger story of critical response to crisis and patient care.

The Community Health Council has created a website with daily updates and guidance for care and response. It can be found at rutherfordhelp.com. There are also opportunities there for volunteers.

Rutherford Regional Health System CEO Rebecca Segal was effusive in her praise for the 500-700 people who work for the local hospital.

"Every single person who walks through our doors to work here does so because we care. We want to make a difference," Segal said. She said everybody is working together to keep patients safe and provide good care. She said some doctors are even performing chores that would otherwise be done by nurses.

"They go in sometimes so that the nurses don't have to put on the protective gear again. We're dealing with lots more protective gear than we have before," Segal said.

Infectious disease preventionist Jennifer Parker said, "People need to continue social distancing even if restrictions are changed." She was referring to news that Gov. Cooper may lower restrictions. "They need to still be cautious and use reliable information, not everything they hear on social media."

Segal also encouraged folks to continue to support the staff at the hospital. "We've got a little campaign going called Thank A Healthcare Hero, and we really appreciate the support the community has shown."

She mentioned that two weeks in mid-May will be celebrating nurses and hospitals and urged the community to keep the current heroism in mind during those two weeks, May 6-16. Segal said the can-do attitude in the hospital has gotten to the point that all are willing to do what needs doing. "If I need to clean a floor, I'll clean a floor."

Director of marketing Amy Brevard said, "People have donated food, sent emails, cards, protective equipment. The outpouring of community support has been truly inspiring."

Mike Grossell, a local pediatrician said he's upset that people are not doing social distancing in stores where he has shopped lately and people are not wearing masks. He also said he hopes people are paying attention to the high numbers of confirmed cases in the county.

Paul Claroni, a physician's assistant, said six of his coworkers have tested positive for Covid19. He has one acquaintance who has died.

He said, the crisis "has been quite an adjustment."

Robert Stallings, another local doctor, has donated N95 masks to the hospital.

Like most of the healthcare workers we spoke with, Parker stressed the importance of hand washing in a video on the hospital's Facebook page. She stressed hand washing again in a telephone interview

Lori Dickson, a physician with Forest City Family Medicine told the story of her practice's response to the crisis. "This entire pandemic still feels surreal. Our office, like everywhere, changed our game plan multiple times a week when this initially began. We were very busy and even had Covid testing that we performed in our parking lot. However, as the local health department streamlined its testing, all of the suspected patients were sent there for testing. Then, the stay at home order came down and the goal became clear...keep as many patients out of the office as possible to avoid exposure. We shifted rapidly to telephone visits and virtual visits, a whole new world," Dickson said.

"Our staff has been phenomenal. Everyone has pulled together to make the best of this entire situation but it has been very stressful. It seems we were meeting together two or three times daily as the new guidelines and updates poured in. Then, the real kicker came. In the midst of a global medical disaster, our skills shifted to virtual care and away from hands on which meant staff furloughs. This has been surreal. At a time that we expected to be busier and busier, we have five furloughed staff members. Emotionally, this is frustrating, at best," she said.

"Personally, this is a double edged sword. I have had more time at home with my family as all of our spring sports and other activities have been canceled. Work stress has been high and home has been my respite. I don't dislike being able to meet patient needs through telemedicine and virtual visits but it is just not what I signed up for and feels nowhere near enough when other frontline emergency room providers are face to face with Covid disaster and death daily. In reaching out to patients and inquiring how they are coping, I have heard everything from 'I am ok' to 'I have cabin fever' to 'I think this is all ridiculous and unnecessary,' to 'I am terrified.' The two most common complaints, across the board, are anxiety and weight gain! I feel that mental health is definitely declining in many and I fear that the implications for the future aren't even evident yet," Dickson said.

Another healthcare worker who is providing heroic service during this crisis is Blue Ridge Health clinic supervisor, Stephanie Hill.

She said, "Like so many people, I have been affected. I have not been able to see my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home, for weeks. My daughter celebrated her 13th birthday under stay-at-home orders. I have certainly felt some stress from the uncertainty. Yet, at the same time, I have seen more neighbors outdoors, my children are learning to live the way we did growing up, and I have seen the community rally around their health like never before. It's been moving and powerful in a strange and somewhat stressful way."

Hill added, "The people I work with are the strongest people I know, but staff have been under some emotional stress. The uncertainty for everyone in the country takes a toll. They come to work and do everything they can to keep patients healthy. They do all that while learning how to be a teacher to their children while schools are out, working full time, and making sure they have the food and supplies they need to care for their families. While it has been challenging for everyone, I am so proud of how people have stepped up. They come to work and put their best foot forward for the patients they care for. They do what needs to be done to care for our community. We all rally around each other in ways we never could have anticipated a couple months ago. We have a 'who needs it' group that helps us shop for each other, for example."

Blue Ridge Health has a number of clinics throughout Western North Carolina, including one in Lake Lure. Hill runs the clinic on Main Street in Spindale.

She also said, "We have always worked very closely with our health department. Right now, we're bringing food to patients in need, helping each other stay on top of testing guidelines, and collaborating closely on best practices. While Rutherford County has avoided the worst of it so far, the plans are in place. If a patient calls in and is presumed positive, we will strongly recommend that they quarantine, then we check up on them every day to monitor their symptoms and remind them they're in good hands. If their symptoms get worse, the plan is to send them to the health department to get tested and triaged. If a patient comes to our practice and answers screening questions that lead us to believe they may be positive or may have been exposed, we will test them on site at our practice, recommend isolation, and monitor them daily to make sure their symptoms don't worsen. It is important to us that our patients know their health is our top priority."

Retired nurse Marsha Milford said she was outraged at protestors who are getting too close to each other and reporters thereby threatening healthcare workers. "When people come to the hospital sick with this virus it's the healthcare workers who are at risk, many of them in their 20's, 30's and 40's. It made me mad to see this on television."

Several women in Lake Lure have adopted the name "masketeers" who are making cloth masks for first responders and the medical community. Women include Nancy Evans, Yvonne Cooley, Mary Ellen Jones, Carol Wolfe, Yates Marsic and Julie Parsell.

Please stay home, wash your hands, and maintain a 6-foot social distance from others. To receive daily alerts from the EOC, text your zip code to 888777. For general information call 211 or go to rutherfordhelp.com, or facebook.com/rcemergencymanagement.

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