For Blythedale Children’s Hospital, warnings of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis were spotted early. The COVID-19 Leadership Team acted quickly to curb possible exposure while also preparing for the likelihood of state-mandated closures and restrictions. As a way to address mounting uncertainty over program suspensions and a potential surge in patient care needs, Blythedale turned to its most vital resource for help - its staff.

Blythedale began looking to its back-end staff for help should the crisis significantly impact the Hospital’s frontline. These unsung healthcare heroes typically work behind the scenes, but many have prior bedside experience and/or clinical licenses (i.e. nursing).

Just as soon as the plan was prepared, New York State closed schools, non-essential businesses and ambulatory care programs to slow the spread.  Blythedale indefinitely suspended its Day Hospital, outpatient and specialized feeding programs, as well as onsite classes at Mount Pleasant Blythedale Union Free School District.  

It was during this defining moment in the Hospital’s history that the true Blythedale Difference shone through.  

In the span of just two weeks, Jill Wegener, MSN, RN, CCRN, Blythedale’s Senior Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer and Patient Care Services, Diane Carey, RN, MSN, CPN, Blythedale’s Clinical Nurse Educator, and Melissa Shemek, MSN Ed., RNC-NICU, Blythedale’s Director of Nursing Education, worked together to spearhead this first of its kind hospital-wide training initiative.

“Nursing and senior leadership looked at the different talents of everyone inside the Hospital to figure out how to best disperse those abilities in the most effective and efficient way possible,” said Melissa Shemek.  “This has never been done before at Blythedale, and it’s not easy to ask people to do something different at a moment’s notice, but so many people did it so graciously and so willingly.  

Dozens of Blythedale staff agreed to voluntarily step up and become oriented in other positions or roles. Administrative assistants were cross-trained to be able to assist throughout the Hospital.  Some nurses transitioned to other units (i.e. Day Hospital to inpatient or long term care), while others learned how to cover supervisory roles.

A handful of other admission and discharge planners in the Social Work Department, with clinical nursing backgrounds, also joined the fight to combat COVID-19.  Some trained to return to the bedside on the Pediatric, Adolescent & Traumatic Brain Injury Unit, while others joined the ranks as nurse screeners, checking anyone who entered the Hospital for potential symptoms (i.e. temperature or physical assessment).

“As a way to ensure a depth to our staffing pool, we discussed having them train to refresh their skills and enable them to support our Nursing Department.  Each one said ‘absolutely’ without hesitating and I am incredibly proud of their dedication to this institution,” said Susan Murray, LCSW, Blythedale’s Vice President of Patient Experience, Clinical Outreach, and Care Coordination Services.  

One of the many employees who made the move from behind-the-scenes to the frontline was Stormie Cahill, BSN, RN, Admissions Care Manager for Blythedale’s Social Work Department.  Her clinical nursing background in pediatric long term care facilities proved a perfect fit to fill open shifts in The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Pediatric Long Term Care Pavilion.  

Stormie underwent several days of training alongside members of the Nursing Department.  She was brought up to speed on both inpatient and long term care units,introduced to patients and residents, then received additional clinical training on equipment, feedings and ventilator settings.

“I was nervous at first, but with these unprecedented times, it’s the perfect way to make sure our kids and nurses are taken care of.” said Cahill. “Now, I get to spend my weeks in two different worlds. Half the time I work as a nurse and the other half I am handling social work cases. I feel more informed, more hands-on and have an even better understanding of the type of kids that Blythedale can help.”

“One of the things that has always been so noticeable to me about Blythedale is the way in which everyone is willing to pitch in to make things work.  This pandemic takes that to a whole new level,” said Murray.

This willingness to help and stay hopeful, particularly during a time of crisis, is the core foundation of Team Blythedale. As a result of the unwavering support and dedication by numerous staff members - both behind-the-scenes and on the frontlines - care and treatment remained constant for the Hospital’s medically complex kids.