Phelps Health employees share what it has been like working during the COVID-19 pandemic

Staff Reports
Phelps Health employee Trevor Friend and Nurse Practitioner Brandon Lamberth conduct a screening at the drive-through respiratory screening station.

For Kimberly McFarland, a nurse with Phelps Health Surgical Services, work during the COVID-19 pandemic has been anything but usual.

"I don't think there is such a thing as a typical day anymore,” she said.

The pandemic has brought several changes this year, and healthcare workers have had to especially adapt.

Hannah Garrity, another Phelps Health nurse, has had three different jobs this year at the hospital.

“It's changed my life a whole bunch,” she said. “I was working in the Surgery Department, but the pandemic and the shortages [temporarily] shut that down for a while,” she said.

Garrity transferred to the drive-through respiratory screening station and helped screen patients for COVID-19.

“In August, I started in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit], which has almost doubled in patient capacity,” Garrity said.

The number of positive COVID-19 tests performed at Phelps Health has increased significantly over the last several months.

In June, the COVID-19 positive testing percentage was 1%. By December, the positivity rate has increased to about 27% on average.

COVID-19 Affects All Ages

This surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the community has led to more hospitalized patients at Phelps Health.

Medical Telemetry Director Barbara McNamara said she has seen extremely ill patients during these past few months.

“Our COVID-19 patients are very, very sick,” McNamara said. “People who have not experienced this do not understand.”

Older adults and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. While not as common, children can be infected and get sick from COVID-19, too.

McFarland said this disease impacts people of all ages and affects everyone differently.

“We've seen children and elderly, some with minor illness to life-threatening illness from COVID-19,” she said.

Margo Riddle, also a nurse in Surgical Services, agreed. “It's [COVID-19] not discriminatory. It doesn't choose or pick. It could be somebody young and healthy or somebody older,” Riddle said.

Staff Exposures

Phelps Health care providers and staff take all of the necessary precautions and follow strict infection control measures while working. However, employees can be exposed to COVID-19 in many ways and not just while working.

This has led to staff shortages in several departments at Phelps Health.

"Every day someone gets sick on my staff, and that is my biggest fear, for them to get sick,” McNamara said. "I have a lot of staff out right now. That is impacting everyone because we have to try to make up for that, and we can't just make a nurse overnight."

McFarland said in her department, she and her coworkers have been exposed to COVID-19 and had to isolate.

“It's difficult to isolate away from your whole family for that period of time, let alone if you actually have COVID-19 and become very ill,” McFarland said.


Despite the challenges healthcare workers face, they still come to work each day and continue to care for their patients.

"When I decided to become a nurse, I knew I wanted to serve people and make a difference,” Riddle said. “Good or bad, for better or for worse, you come to work every day and do your job because you're here to take care of people.”

Cindy Butler, administrative director of patient care services at Phelps Health, agreed. “Nurses go into nursing because we are compassionate,” she said.

Preston Hodapp, who has been working at the respiratory screening station since March, said while this year has been fast-paced and unpredictable at times, he finds his motivation in the people he serves.

"The patients just really keep me going,” he said. “Being able to help them and the community is my motivation through this.”

What You Can Do

The employees at Phelps Health offered the following advice for what the community can do to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

· Wash your hands often with soap and water.

· Avoid close contact with others who are sick and those who do not live in your household.

· Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.

· Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.

· Stay home if you feel sick.

“I know people are getting tired of it, but the more we try to keep our masks on properly, the more sanitation we do, the more careful we are in public places, the more we remind other people, the faster this can be over,” said Mable Daugaard, with Phelps Health Food and Dietary Services.

Healthcare employees are often referred to as the front line, but Garrity offered a different perspective to who the front line is now.

“We're not the front line anymore, you guys are,” she said, referring to the public. “By wearing your mask, washing your hands, staying six feet apart…that is the front line…We [healthcare workers] are the last line of defense.”

Phelps Health COVID-19 Vaccine Plan

Phelps Health Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Keri Brookshire-Heavin discussed the COVID-19 vaccination plan for Phelps Health employees Wednesday.

· The state of Missouri has approved Phelps Health’s application to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider.

· Phelps Health tentatively expects to order the vaccine Dec. 21.

· The vaccine is expected to ship to Phelps Health during the week of Dec. 28.

· Phelps Health will follow the state’s vaccination plan, which includes vaccinating certain groups in phases.

Part of the first phase includes vaccinating patient-facing healthcare workers and healthcare staff who have a potential to be exposed to COVID-19, among others.

· The first round of Phelps Health employees to receive the vaccine will take place over a 10-day period.

· The Phelps Health Marketing Department has developed a plan to help educate employees and the public about the COVID-19 vaccine.

· A community consortium will be developed to coordinate vaccination of various groups in the area.