Nurses Week 2020: celebrating heroes of the pandemic

24 nurses standing together outside wearing vintage white uniforms and protective face masks
In honor of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, nurses at affiliate St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, wore vintage white uniforms to celebrate during Nurses Week 2020.

This past week, in the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve paused to celebrate Nurses Week 2020 and the 98,000 nurses across the HCA Healthcare enterprise. While the last several weeks have challenged all of us, there have been shining examples of perseverance, resilience, teamwork, and even celebration. As we round out this annual salute to nurses, eight brave colleagues reflect on what they’ve experienced, the decisions they’ve made and the COVID-19 moments that have defined them. 

“Nurses Week is my favorite time of the year. This year is no different, however I see this week differently as nurses continue to address the unprecedented pandemic occurring globally, and in our communities,” said Jane Englebright, HCA Healthcare senior vice president and chief nurse executive.

“Thank you for meeting this global health pandemic head on. 2020 was deemed ‘Year of the Nurse’ by the World Health Organization. We know this year has proven just that. Not only are you critical to HCA Healthcare, you are critical on a global scale. You are saving lives around the clock, and I could not be more proud of the way each of you has responded to the enormous challenge.”

Jane Englebright, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at HCA Healthcare

In the face of adversity, we are fortunate to be surrounded by nurses who continue to raise the bar for our patients, advocating for their needs and giving them voice. Read on for powerful stories of how HCA Healthcare’s nurses have stepped up in the fight against COVID-19, showing incredible innovation, stamina and compassion.

Laura-Anne Cleveland, Associate Chief Nursing Officer

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (Denver, Colorado)

Laura-Anne Cleveland smiling and  wearing a military-style jacket and pants

Laura-Anne Cleveland knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was 6 years old. It was her calling, and she’s still driven to help others in their worst moments after 15 years in the field. Laura-Anne, who serves as the associate chief nursing officer at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, is also a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). In her DMAT role, she employs her nursing experience to respond to disasters like Hurricane Irma and, most recently, cared for some of the country’s first COVID-19 patients. She’s now using that expertise in her role as incident commander for the hospital’s COVID-19 Incident Command Center.

“I have never before been more proud of our healthcare workers as I watch them face their own fears, and yet choose to put their fears aside and provide the highest level of compassionate care,” Laura-Anne says. “We work tirelessly addressing every new change and hurdle, ensuring every patient, visitor, provider and healthcare worker have what they need to stay safe and provide exceptional care.”

While Laura-Anne is quick to turn the spotlight on her team, colleagues and patients appreciate her easy-going, positive and approachable demeanor and say she is an inspiration. “Being a nurse during this pandemic means the fatigue from long hours and pouring my heart onto staff, leaders and patients at times can overwhelm me to tears,” she says. “But then I get to see my family and children and know that I work tirelessly so that others may come home to their own families.

“Our ways of doing this thing we call nursing will likely forever be changed. What won’t change is the dedication of every caregiver—giving their hearts and lives to the lives of others.”

Shelli Couts, ICU Nurse

Menorah Medical Center (Overland Park, Kansas)

Menorah Medical Center

It’s no secret that one of the greatest tragedies of this pandemic is that people are dying without family by their side. But dedicated nurses, like Shelly, are going to extraordinary measures to ensure patients do not pass alone.

In order to provide critically ill patients and their families the opportunity to say goodbye, the team at Menorah Medical Center set up a tent that can be put outside of ICU room windows so family can visit amidst physical limitations.

While it’s been used for several families now, the tent was originally set up for a hospice care patient. While care team members were making sure the family was comfortable inside the tent, Shelli, an ICU nurse, was caring for the patient inside.

“As a leader I was moved to tears watching as Shelli, his nurse that day, worked so hard in collaboration with all staff to provide therapeutic end of life care,” explained Mandy Perrigon, ICU assistant director at Menorah Medical Center. “She played music and spoke to him. She talked to the family and repeatedly let them know she would not leave him alone, holding his hand for them in his final hours. We spoke after the patient passed and decided we would call that day “Tents and Tears”, grateful that we were able, unlike so many other facilities, to provide a private space that family could be as close as possible feeling connected to him during his passing related to COVID-19.”

The tent has become a remarkable place of faith, togetherness and healing.

Tammy Stimmerman, ICU Nurse

Westside Regional Medical Center (Plantation, Florida)

Closeup of Tammy Stimmerman wearing protective hair mask, goggles, face mask and scrubs

Tammy chose to be an ICU nurse so she could help patients in their greatest time of need. COVID-19 cements her calling to show up, when others are asked to stay home.

“There are good days, where patients are improving and it brings you absolute joy to be able to FaceTime with families and allow them to talk to their loved ones,” shares Tammy. “But then there are the heartbreaking days, where you allow the family to say goodbye to their loved one through FaceTime and all you can do is hold the person’s hand so they know someone is there.”

Even still, when Tammy heard one of her nursing friends was going to New York City to help the hard-hit city, she knew she had to do the same.

“First, I had to make sure that my Westside family would going to be ok to care for the COVID-19 patients we were receiving at Westside, and then I asked about going. My leadership team was very supportive. I knew that the more nurses they had to help here in NYC, the better chance of survival and the less chance that other nurses would get sick as well.”

Tammy is currently working 12 hour day shifts and taking care of all COVID-19 positive patients in New York City. Through it all, she remains motivated.

“I’m doing what I love to do. I’m taking care of people who need me the most, and I’m there to help the struggling nurses that have been here since the beginning. I do what I do because I can. I’m helping care for those in a time when the country has been devastated and even though it may be a small impact, I’m still here,” says Tammy.

Jessica Hanamoto, Nurse

Los Robles  Rehabilitation Hospital (Thousand Oaks, California)

Nurse Jessica Hanamoto wearing scrubs, standing with eyes closed

At a time when patients find themselves alone due to visitor restrictions, Jessica is using the power of music to help spread joy and create an atmosphere of comfort.

Dubbed the “singing nurse”, Jessica originally started singing to patients as she was admitting them to the rehabilitation center she works at. Her gift of song quickly grew into something much larger after an overwhelmingly positive response. Once other patients started hearing Jessica singing down the hall, they asked if she could sing to them as well.

“I like to live every day with the motto that kindness is free,” Jessica tells NBC Los Angeles. “It’s a blessing to me and to them, to bring them a little bit of happiness.”

In addition to singing, Jessica helps give back by using downtime on her days off to stuff care packages for patients at the rehabilitation center, in addition to other surrounding hospitals. Click here to listen to Jessica sing.

Owen Rogers, Emergency Room Nurse

Plantation General Hospital (Plantation, Florida)

Nurse Owen Rogers wearing protective goggles, mask, and clothing cover over his scrubs, sitting next to medical equipment

Even on the worst days, emergency room nurse Owen Rogers loves his job. “The uncertainty of what’s next, the teamwork, the autonomy, but most of all, the patients. Whether a stomach pain or stroke brought them into the ER, it is my job, and honor, to turn their worst day into something better.”

But on July 7, 2019, Owen “went from frontline worker to frontline patient” after a CT scan revealed he had a large brain tumor. Eight days later, the tumor was successfully removed.

“The next three months were fuzzy at best while I recovered and went through radiation. The support of my family, friends and ER family made the process bearable. The text messages from my ER family were crucial to my recovery. When I needed a lift, a call or text would magically appear,” Owen adds.

In December, Owen returned to work with a better understanding of what his patients were going through, as well as a newfound strength to handle any situation. That strength would soon be tested during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hardship doesn’t wait until you are ready and it is our duty to be ready. I am so grateful to be on the frontline with my team. While the process of learning about and dealing with COVID-19 continues to evolve, my respect and regard for my ER family has grown exponentially. No one knows how they will react to combat until combat arrives. When it arrived at Plantation General Hospital, we were ready and fought tooth and nail for the lives in our care. It’s what we do. We will get through COVID and be stronger for it.”

Owens story has gained the attention of CBS News, Cheddar News and Access Hollywood.

Jocelyn Grobmeier, Bone Marrow Transplant Nurse

Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center (Denver, Colorado)

Headshot of nurse Jocelyn Grobmeier in scrubs and protective face mask

During COVID-19, nurse Jocelyn Grobmeier is volunteering with Small Choices Foundation, which is providing groceries, comfort items and laundry services to cancer patients who cannot have their loved ones with them. Jocelyn was part of the planning process to make sure the foundation was meeting the needs of patients, and she’s now delivering items, which she says has been a joy.

Jocelyn hasn’t stopped there. Before Colorado schools even closed, she set up a Facebook group to help staff find childcare when they need it. And when an EVS team member’s bus route was cut and she had to start walking 2-3 miles to get to the next closest route, Jocelyn spoke with her coworkers and they collected money for a Lyft gift card to make sure their colleague could get to work safely.

“While each day during this pandemic has required a lot of adjustments and uncertainty, never before has it been more true that we ‘care like family,’” Jocelyn says. “Communication and teamwork has been paramount. As coworkers we have grown more together; a shoulder to lean on when we’re overwhelmed, a shared joke to ease the tension. I am so proud of the team I work with!”

Melanie Godfrey, Medical-Surgical Nurse

Trident Medical Center (Charleston, South Carolina)

Two female nurses wearing scrubs and protective face masks while flexing their arm muscles in a hallway

Melanie Godfrey has been a registered nurse at Trident Medical Center for 22 years. At the start of each shift, she arrives at her hometown hospital, undaunted by the grim work that lies ahead.

Melanie stresses that it’s important to remember this pandemic will end. “Don’t be afraid,” she says. “Stay strong. We will get through this.”

During the pandemic, Melanie was the primary caregiver of the hospital’s first COVID-19 patient to be discharged. The patient, an 81-year-old woman from New York, had traveled to South Carolina to visit family, but developed symptoms and received a positive diagnosis during her stay.

After 11 days at Trident Medical Center, the patient was discharged and credits Melanie’s strong-will to keep her connected with her family as essential to a full recovery.

Beverly Switzer, Hospice Nurse

CarePartners Hospice at Mission Health (North Carolina)

Nurse Beverly Switzer wearing casual clothes and protective face mask

Being a hospice nurse takes a special kind of person, which is exactly what Beverly is. She feels privileged to be able to hold the hand of a patient at the end of their journey, while comforting their loved ones.

Her calm demeanor, compassionate care and attention to detail does not go unnoticed. Each team member, patient and family member Beverly encounters sings her high praises. Many times other nurses say they look up to her as the nurse they “would like to be one day”.

In addition to hospice care, Beverly has been screening hospital visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Recently, Beverly got to take part in emotional reunion during a patient discharge. Due to enhanced visitor precautions, a female patient had not been able to see her family in quite some time. “I told her she had a visitor and her face lit up. When the door opened fully I saw the patients face turn to an expression of delight as her family member rushed in the room and they embraced,” said Beverly. “Moments such as this reinforce how worthwhile it is to take these extra precautions.”

HCA Healthcare is one of the largest employers of nurses in the country, with 98,000 registered nurses holding positions from bedside caregivers in a variety of healthcare settings to leadership positions throughout the organization. HCA Healthcare is a learning healthcare system that uses its approximately 35 million annual patient encounters to improve patient care and save lives.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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