Worcester State’s Nursing Community Using Training, Offering Support During Pandemic

April 8, 2020
By: Kristen O'Reilly

The Worcester State nursing community is finding strength during the COVID-19 pandemic by relying on their training and knowledge, sharing their personal stories, and offering support to caregivers on the front lines. Students and alumni have been contacting nursing faculty to update them on their lives, and offer real-life examples of how medical professionals are dealing with the daily strain.

“My email is so raw and filled with fear and pain. I am overcome by emotion every time I open one,” says Professor Stephanie Chalupka, Ed.D., R.N., coordinator of the Master of Science in Nursing Program with a specialization in public health.

Student Jennifer DeJordy, a staff nurse in the operating room at UMass Memorial Medical Center, is preparing to help her colleagues in the ICU in anticipation of an expected crush of patients. The scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) is particularly heartbreaking to her, since normally one of her responsibilities is to make sure masks fit correctly for the best protection.

“I’m starting to shadow in the ICU this week and I’m a little scared of what the next few weeks and months will bring. The nurses are already overworked in these areas while other areas don’t have much work,” says DeJordy, who is in the Master of Science in Nursing, Public Health program. “I don’t know if I will get sick, maybe not. I do know that I’m super anxious in healthcare right now and I haven’t even cared for one of these patients yet. This is terrible for everyone, and I appreciate all that we have a little bit more.”

Nicole Pustis ‘06, R.N., a nursing education safety specialist for the Division of Pediatrics at UMass Memorial Medical Center, is assigned to the UMMC command center, writing operation documents in addition to helping convert some pediatric ICU beds for adult use. She and a working group created a prototype for a shield that will extend the life of precious N95 masks, and a 3-D printing company is expected to deliver 100 of these shields soon.

“It feels like we’re waiting for a tsunami to hit us,” says Pustis, who is in the Master of Science in Nursing, Public Health program. “So many teams are coming together on this—nobody has ever lived through a pandemic and we are working it out together. I have a feeling of awe on a regular basis that we are living through history right now. It’s humbling to be a part of. At the same time, I’m afraid of what my job does to my family. If I give them a kiss, am I going to exposed them? We practice all the safety precautions, but you can only do so much. And when the surge comes, I wonder, should I go home to them or not?”

Leah Gangai, R.N., is a student in the R.N. to Master of Science, Nurse Educator Program and a recent nursing school graduate. Although she currently works as a staff nurse on a non-COVID-19 patient floor, she is also feeling the strain.

“I was wondering tonight, are these patients who are staying home and not having their elective procedures harming themselves by having to wait? Let’s all hope that we make it through this impending spike in cases and see the positive effects of the social distancing that most of the population has been practicing,” Gangai says. “I am honored to be a nurse during this time. I may not be directly caring for those who are positive with COVID-19, but I am still considered essential to the population that needs me.”

Liz DelSignore, R.N., is also a student in the nurse educator program, as well as the LPN-BS coordinator and tutor in the Dr. Lillian R. Goodman Department of Nursing. She usually works per diem at Mass General Hospital (MGH) in Boston in the gastro-intestinal (GI) department.

“Things have rapidly evolved, and this week I began online ICU refresher courses in preparation for helping to staff one of three new ICU’s opening at MGH that need to be staffed. I spent the first half of my career as a surgical and pediatric ICU nurse,” she says. “I never planned on going back to this type of work environment, but I am happy to use my skills to help vulnerable patients. Tensions are running high, as many staff are being cross-trained to help in ICU that have never had ICU experience. One of my goals is to help boost morale and support my anxious co-workers during this epic role transition, and I have volunteered to work nights and weekends so that those who cannot are less likely to be asked to.”

Assistant Professor Michelle Page, D.N.P., R.N., has been reaching out to her undergraduate nursing students, who continue to learn despite working remotely.

“Supporting my students during this time has been my focus. I hopefully instill in all of them that being a direct patient care nurse takes many strengths and my job is to help them to understand what those are in the complexity of healthcare. As they begin to understand the gravity of this pandemic, the real dangers and challenges of our profession, and the life-saving knowledge, attitudes, and skills that we must have at all times, my passion during this time remains to teach our students that truly dedicated direct patient care nurses step up to the plate, and not away, when times seem most desperate,” she says.

Read more from Page here.

Page also organized the recording of a supportive video using a “virtual choir” of nursing students and faculty singing the late Bill Withers’ classic song “Lean on Me.” View the video here.

“I am so proud of you for heeding the call to send out your voices of love and support for our nurses in the front line of healthcare. Even with all that you are doing to continue your professional journey during this incredible stressful time, you have managed to carve out time to think of others,” she wrote to the group.

Chalupka says many of her Community/Public Health Nursing MSN students are supporting health departments by providing contact tracing, contact calls, and quarantine monitoring calls.

In addition, the Community/Public Health Nursing alumni are making a significant difference in the front lines, including Jodi Swenson, M.S.N. ’19, the emergency department flow manager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Ruth Mori, M.S.N. ’17, a public health nurse for the Town of Wayland, who is providing statewide leadership as the president of the Mass. Association of Public Health Nurses; Pat Bruchman ’98, M.S.N. ’04, the chief public health nurse for the city of Worcester; and Alissa Errede, chief of emergency preparedness for the Division of Public Health in Worcester.

“The students in this program develop significant expertise in emergency preparedness, including completing many hours of FEMA and emergency preparedness and disaster response training,” Chalupka says. “They have a very significant relevant knowledge base. This public health response is an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills acquired through their program to practice. They are proud to be able to translate what they are learning into action to protect public health and support the community and I am incredibly proud of them.”

Add your story of resilience: If you are a front-line nurse or other medical professional who is a student and/or Worcester State alumna/us, send your story to koreilly1@worcester.edu.

One Comment

  1. Michelle Page says:

    Our entire community of faculty and students have really pulled all of our expertise together to do the parts that make a difference. We don’t “live” for these moments, but when something like this occurs, you see Nurses..Acute care, educators, public health, emergency, cardiac, IV therapy, pediatric, maternity, informaticists, advanced care NPs, nurse scientists, nurse anesthetists, PACU/OR, ICU, stepdown, etc etc and all of the other specialties combining each of their super powers to heal! Nursing has that unique ability to be in any situation and amalgamate the skills necessary to meet the many needs of people. Bravo to all my Nursing family and colleagues.

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