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HSC nurses answer the call for help during COVID

nurseMichelle Poynton, RN, a Health Services Corporation nurse, was redeployed to Medicine A, a COVID unit at Greenwich Hospital. She is one of dozens of HSC nurses who returned to clinical areas to help with staffing needs across the health system.

Michelle Poynton, RN, hadn’t provided direct patient care for 12 years when she was asked to join the nursing staff on Medicine A, a COVID unit at Greenwich Hospital.

“I was grateful to help this team of nurses,” said Poynton, accreditation and regulatory specialist, Accreditation and Regulatory Affairs. “I’m a nurse. It’s who I am.” Poynton is one of dozens of nurses working for the Health Services Corporation (HSC), the Yale New Haven Health entity that includes many corporate and administrative departments, who agreed to be reassigned to clinical areas needing extra help. When COVID-19 admissions began surging again in the fall, YNHHS turned to many HSC nurses with requisite skill sets who could assist with clinical care.

HSC nurses in areas such as Information Technology Services, Supply Chain, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Finance and the Institute for Excellence answered the call for help. They had largely been untapped resources during the spring COVID surge. At that time, more traveler nurses were available, and many YNHHS ambulatory sites had closed or limited services, so those nurses could assist elsewhere. 

“Now, as we balance staffing needs for COVID, other inpatient and ambulatory volumes, and testing and vaccination programs, the labor pool we had in the spring has diminished,” said Judy Petersen-Pickett, RN, quality and safety manager, Northeast Medical Group. Petersen-Pickett herself is on reassignment, helping nursing leadership and Human Resources redeploy staff to areas in need across YNHHS. 

Nurses have redeployed to vaccination clinics and all types of medical units – including COVID units – in an “all-hands-on-deck” effort to support the health system. HSC nurses returning to the bedside mostly serve in support roles, ready to help the nursing staff with anything they need. 

Russell Hullstrung, RN, director of e-learning, Institute for Excellence, described himself as a utility player on Northeast 10, the Bridgeport Hospital medical-cardiac unit he was reassigned to. He changed dressings, assisted with morning care, conducted hourly rounds, took vitals, responded to call bells and bed alarms, educated patients about their conditions or medications and performed other duties. In doing so, he lightened the load for the staff and offered his skill and support to patients.

“Knowing I made a difference in someone’s day – no matter how small – was rewarding,” he said. Though out of practice for 15 years, Hullstrung focused on what he could do, and do well, and quickly fell back into the rhythm of patient care. 

“You don’t forget how to be a nurse,” he said. “It’s not quite like riding a bike, because there are physical and emotional aspects of the practice where you need to rebuild stamina, but the foundations of nursing stay with you.”

Brenda Finoia, RN, principal trainer, ITS, who was deployed to Bridgeport Hospital’s West Tower 6 surgical unit, said that while she never thought she’d return to the bedside after 10 years in ITS, she was proud to help in any way she could during this crisis. That included sharing her knowledge of Epic functionality to help make nurses’ and patient care associates’ jobs more efficient. “When you help the staff, you help the patients,” she said. 

Poynton, who was redeployed to the COVID unit in a support role, was also happy to help frontline staff. “They’ve been in this from the start. I’m just thankful I was able to give them a breather.” 

Any nervousness she felt about working with COVID patients dissipated within a few minutes. “On day one, I received personal protective equipment and learned how to use it properly, so I knew I was safe,” she said. 

Poynton recalled a conversation with a frightened patient admitted from the Emergency Department. “I explained to her how far we’ve come with our knowledge of the virus, and by the end of our conversation she was smiling,” she said. “To help people in this way is a blessing. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

“The HSC nurses who stepped up these last few months have been invaluable to our frontline staff and bedside leaders, our organization and our patients,” said MaryEllen Kosturko, RN, chief nursing officer, Bridgeport Hospital. “It is heartwarming to see their passion shine and their camaraderie in helping their fellow nurses during this time of extreme need.” 

“These nurses, who never expected to find themselves in this situation, met this challenge with heroic courage,” said Beth Beckman, RN, DNSc, Yale New Haven Health chief nursing executive. “They brought their best every day and made a difference, which made all the difference to frontline nurses who have been in this battle for almost a year with no end in sight.”