Drawing chiefly from Health First Medical Group, 80 Health First Providers and more than 270 more nurses, assistants and more converge on dire COVID-19 Intensive Care Units.
When Health First put the call out for non-hospital providers and clinicians to voluntarily redeploy to one of the health system's four hospitals in Melbourne, Palm Bay, Viera and Cocoa Beach, Ann Quesada, APRN, put off her vacation plans and signed up. She felt called to step up and meet the moment. She was hardly alone, and the response has lifted spirits across Health First.
Late last month, the 27-year veteran nurse practitioner posted two weeks' worth of full shifts at Viera Hospital, caring for COVID-19 patients and others on the Med Surge floor of the hospital. She is one of hundreds at Health First to choose to train to redeploy to the front lines – most to the COVID-19 Intensive Care Units at Holmes Regional Medical Center, Cape Canaveral Hospital, Palm Bay Hospital and Viera Hospital.
"I just love what I do. I didn’t think much of it when they told me, 'OK, it’s going to start next week.' Because i was set for vacation, I’d already scheduled with my patients to be out," she said.
On Aug. 6, the call to all HFMG Providers, clinicians and assistants to redeploy went out – the response was overwhelming. More than 80 Providers and another 270-plus Associates put in for redeployment to the hospital division as well as Hospital At Home and other outpatient services. In total, the number of hours worked tops 10,000.
Ann is an OB-GYN provider who practices out of the flagship Health First Medical Group offices at 1223 Gateway Dr.
"When I told them I was a nurse practitioner, I think at first they didn’t know what to do with me. I said, just put me on the floor as an RN! What do you need? I remember being a floor nurse before, and I knew what it was like to be short staffed."
Another nurse practitioner, Elizabeth Logan, lends her past work experiences in pulmonology and critical care to the COVID-19 unit at Cape Canaveral Hospital.
"I felt almost obligated to do it. It just – it's the right thing to do."
Logan worked seven 12-hour shifts in a row at the end of the month, had two days off, then pulled off another six days straight.
"Honestly, unless you’re actually working in a hospital, on a COVID unit, you just don’t have any idea what’s happening," she said. "I’m pretty well acquainted with death and bad outcomes, but this is completely different. The way that the patients present, how they progress – or not – is different than when I was working critical care before. The patients then were older with a bunch of co-morbidities. We could expect the course. With this, I mean, they’re young. They're previously pretty healthy, they have kids. Kids are losing their parents. And [the patients] are very cognitively aware of what’s happening."
And the heartbreak doesn't stop at the end of a shift. On Aug. 17, an HFMG Practice Manager, Jamarys Hernandez, got a call from a nurse at Palm Bay Hospital who said a young woman had just lost her husband to the disease. He was 30 and left behind four children. The woman and Jamarys attend the same church, so she asked if the staff member would join her to see the body.
"Jamarys gowned up and offered prayers and supported the wife and family as they grieved," recalled Sarah Newman, Director of Clinical Services for HGMG. "She said later, 'I was blessed to have been a vessel at their darkest moment', but, 'What I witnessed yesterday, no parent, wife or kid should have to go through."
"Health First is unique because our system of doctor's offices, clinics and specialists are so numerous, we draw from them in a crisis. But it takes commitment and compassion to sign up for this duty, and our Providers and Associates have demonstrated, as stretched as our resources may be, we have an abundance of spirit," said Paula Just, Chief Experience Officer, Health First.
To stay up to date on developments related to COVID-19 news and treatment at Health First, visit HF.org/StayWell.