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Wiregrass hospital navigates through COVID pandemic without travel nurses

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 1:29 PM CST
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OPP, Ala. (WTVY) - This month marks two years since Alabama detected its first COVID-19 case. Many hospitals across the state strained to care for the sick and called in help from traveling healthcare workers.

However, one Wiregrass hospital is one of the very few who did not, and that’s Mizell Memorial Hospital.

“You’re a puzzle, and like a puzzle, if one of the pieces are missing it doesn’t work,” Stacy Nawlin, RN/ICU said. “It takes everybody doing their part to make it work, and we do that here. We lean on each other.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Alabama health care systems have been the frontline fighters against COVID-19. Their employees worked overtime, day after day and at some facilities, it still wasn’t enough. They needed help from travel nurses, but not Mizell.

“We have had moments where we are stressed more than other times because of staffing issues, but we pull together,” Lisa Arnett, RN, said. “We have great management who will come and take patients and help us on our med surge unit.”

Of Mizell’s 250 full-time employees, 70 are nurses.

“They are here to take care of the patients, and they have to have somebody to take care of them as far as staffing goes,” Mitchell Myers, Chief Clinical Officer, said.

All employees came together to care for their community.

“We take care of each other,” Amanda Harrelson, RN, said. “We’re a family, and we just have each other’s backs, and we just work through it.”

Arnett said working at a rural hospital has challenges within itself, and the pandemic brought more challenges to the forefront, but they leaned on each other and overcame those challenges together.

“Being at Mizell is like my second home, my colleagues are my family,” Arnett said.

Mizell stuck together especially during the darkest times of this pandemic.

“Every patient that we have laying in that bed is somebody’s loved one, and even our own loved ones that we had to take care of,” Arnett said. “Just witnessing them struggle day after day, and in their final moments, we are the ones in the room with them, we are the ones holding their hand and watching them take their last breath. It is the most difficult thing I have ever experienced.”

When patient safety meant restricting visitors, the hospital used hometown staff to provide hometown compassion.

“It’s very emotional for the patient and the caregiver, whether it’s the nurse or a family member,” Nawlin said. “It’s very emotional, death is hard either way. Whether you’re at home or whether you’re in a hospital setting. ICU care is hard and it’s challenging, not just during the pandemic, but through other sicknesses as well.”

The team worked toward togetherness, taking on several roles at once when needed, and overall leaned on each other for support.

“Our physicians have actually come in the rooms and have assisted us with moving patients, and you don’t see that in larger hospitals, so we just band together,” Arnett said.

Nawlin said the good is what keeps her going.

“I love what I do, and I think if you love what you do, and you’re in it for the long haul, then you just take the bad with the good, and you just push on,” Nawlin said.

While the hard work continues, recognition is given.

“They have stayed home and provided care to their citizens, and their community where a lot of people have chosen to go and do some of the travel assignments, and for us to be able to provide the hometown compassion with hometown nurses and hometown healthcare heroes has been just phenomenal,” Myers said.

Like other hospitals across the state, Mizell’s COVID inpatient numbers have lowered. But, at the same time, several people went without seeking proper care due to fear of going into hospitals during the peak of the pandemic. This is now putting the facility at a high patient volume.

The hospital tells News 4 no one will be turned away and they encourage people to please get the care needed.

Copyright 2022 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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