Working Past COVID: A look inside the lives of frontline workers

RICHLAND, Wash. – Let’s return to March 2020; more information is emerging about the COVID-19 pandemic, people in the US are becoming ill and hospitals nationwide, are preparing for the unknown.

“We designated the COVID units, we started the training, different things like high flow oxygen,” Jennifer Van Dyken, a Registered Nurse with Kadlec said.

“It’s initially, just trying to gather as much information as you can,” Reza Kaleel, the Chief Executive added.

Lead Nurse Jennifer Van Dyken worked with the sickest patients on Kadlec’s Acute Care Floor.

She said as they prepared, staff couldn’t help but feel afraid.

“We went through the gamut of emotions, being afraid of what it was, being afraid of coming to work, being afraid of taking it home or into our community,” she said.

Still, hospital staff persevered against a virus that didn’t fit the mold.

“You had to look at the acuity of the patients because they weren’t all the same, they didn’t present the same, they didn’t heal the same. We were really on alert for any symptom,” Jennifer explained.

Kadlec’s Chief Executive, Reza Kaleel, said they do have emergency plans in place and staff know how to handle infectious disease patients, but the pandemic was unprecedented.

“Again we’re used to doing this but not on this large of a scale so it was to some extent, scaling infectious disease practices across the whole organization,” he said.

Kaleel added, it’s been important for their leadership to disseminate correct information, normalize new practices and keep staff healthy.

“Programs for mental health and support that they have access to and then financial support early on when we didn’t know where things we were going and some folks were affected in different ways,” Kaleel said many workers had their programs cut as they responded to the pandemic.

While many patients were sent home to recover, Van Dyken said there was death, exacerbated by pandemic protocols.

“People did die alone and that was tough, it was emotionally tough. I still don’t know how we deal with it, it’s just something we had to do,” the nurse said.

Both Jennifer and Reza said they’re extremely proud of the hard work from their co-workers through the pandemic.

“There’s a certain amount of just grit and sacrifice that I can’t thank staff enough for,” Reza said.

Jennifer said she’s hopeful as case counts dwindle and more people get vaccinated.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she added.

When asked if she thinks our community will return to normal, this was her response.

“A new normal, I think we’ll forever be changed.”

Make sure to tune into KAPP KVEW Local News at 6 PM for the continued coverage of ‘Working Past COVID: What is the new normal?” a limited series.

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