Collaboration Through The COVID-19 Pandemic

Rising to the Occasion, Together

BIDMC staff collaborate to provide extraordinary care with creativity and compassion


BIDMC colleagues walking outside the Social Work Department
Photo taken before mask mandates were implemented at BIDMC.

The strength of BIDMC comes from each and every member of our staff. This has never been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our heroes rose to this unprecedented challenge, adapting at a record pace, exhibiting compassion and creativity, and showing up physically, mentally, and spiritually beyond measure. Most importantly, they did it together.

From the moment we diagnosed our first COVID-positive patient, everyone stepped into new roles and confronted new challenges—while helping others do the same. Social worker Jackie French, LICSW, experienced her work environment transitioning from an inpatient medical–surgical floor to a COVID-19 floor, and one week later, to a COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU). “We had no critical care training, but the ICU nurses helped us at every turn,” says French. “Everyone was here for each other.”

Adds Vicki McKenna, RN, an ICU nurse: “People were scared and tired, but we answered the call.” For her and others, proning, a technique of turning patients from their back to their abdomen, quickly became a critical protocol. “With intubated patients, it's a feat that takes four extremely skilled people,” says McKenna, explaining that a group of BIDMC staff formed a specialized proning team. “We could page them anytime—they were really wonderful.” For Rev. Katie Rimer, MDiv, EdD, Director of Spiritual Care and Education, what stood out the most was the high demand for prayer—including for employees. “Prior to the pandemic, it was pretty unheard of to be asked to hold prayer services for staff,” says Rimer. “But we all gathered to pray. It strengthened us to do what we needed to do.”

In addition to supporting each other, during a time when hospital visitors were restricted for infection control purposes, staff also stepped up to comfort patients and communicate with families. “When the patient’s relatives weren’t there, we took on the impetus to fill that void,” says Elijah Goodman, patient care technician. For many, it was an entirely different experience. “We are used to working at the bedside, up close and personal with patients and families, and then we were suddenly behind a glass door or talking through a phone or tablet,” says Barbara Sarnoff Lee, MSW, LICSW, Senior Director for Social Work and Patient/Family Engagement. “Regardless, we pivoted quickly and remained the connective tissue between patients and their families.”

Yanitza Sanchez-Reyes, CMI, a Spanish medical interpreter, expresses a similar sentiment. “Our team was always available whether in person, on the phone, or on video,” says Sanchez-Reyes, explaining that phone calls could be challenging without seeing visual cues and body language—but the team learned to adapt. “No matter what, our role is to bridge the language gap not only for patients, but for families and clinicians, as well. It’s a partnership.”

Many groups used iPads from generous donors, procured via BIDMC-wide efforts managed by colleagues from across the medical center. This technology was critical in facilitating communication between patients and families, including those with limited English proficiency. “Every member of the care team was vital, including our medical interpreters,” says Shari Gold-Gomez, MBA, Director of Interpreter Services. “Oftentimes, they were the last voice that connected patients and their loved ones at the end of life.” Many times, though, family members could not be present, even remotely through an iPad. “There are countless stories of our staff sitting at the bedside while somebody was taking their last breath, so they would not be alone,” says Sarnoff Lee. Goodman recalls one of those times with striking clarity, right after the passing of one of the patients on his unit. “I knew he was Jewish, so I put my hand on his chest and recited the Jewish prayer for the deceased called the Mourner's Kaddish,” says Goodman. “I hope it was what his family would have wanted.”

During unforeseen circumstances and tragedy, our staff fostered a renewed sense of partnership and belonging. “We very quickly became a close knit community and really got to know each other,” says French of her newfound teammates. Patient transporter Lindon Beckford, who is known for his soothing singing voice, also felt a profound sense of purpose. He lent his gift of song to everyone around him as he transported patients through the halls. “I was told my singing was helping other people, but it was also helping me, too,” says Beckford.

Day in and day out, for more than a year, this mutual support has continued. “It’s amazing to see the talent that we have across this organization, at every level, coming together,” says Marsha Maurer, DNP, RN, Senior Vice President for Patient Care Services and Cynthia and Robert J. Lepofsky Chief Nursing Officer. “It takes a team. It takes a village. And what a village we have.”

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