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Highland staff fighting to keep spirits up, preparing for vaccine

Working in healthcare during a pandemic is taking a heavy toll on Highland Community Hospital staff.

“Our staff is tired, our staff is extremely worn out, worn down. It’s kind of like dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane every single day for a year,” said Bryan Maxie, Highland Community Hospital Administrator.

The conditions hospital staff work under are tougher than ever, he said.

“We can’t get people to wear normal cloth masks. These people wear N95 fitted masks. It’s like you’re breathing underwater, gowns, gloves, hoods, footies, so it’s an added wear and tear to yourself.”

On a daily basis, Maxie gets reminders from the healthcare system CEO to make sure staff members are wearing face masks to protect themselves and patients from COVID-19. Anyone entering the hospital is required to wear a face mask.

“You sense a lot of frustration from our point of view because it’s a daily battle that we have discussions with people coming in our facility not wanting to wear a mask,” said Maxie.

Along with physical wear and tear, caring for COVID-19 patients can also take an emotional and mental toll.

“The stress of seeing the people, those who have underlying conditions, those elderly ones who can’t overcome COVID and pass, the stress of seeing that, dealing with it is something that a lot of them haven’t had to deal with before. You feel helpless at times,” said Maxie.

Maxie said employee assistance programs are available for staff members who need emotional support.

“We try to make sure we keep an eye out for those who need a shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to,” he said.

Preparing for a Vaccine

Highland Community Hospital will be prepared for a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, said Maxie.

The hospital has freezers in place for storing vaccines and protocols written using state and federal guidance. But the hospital administration does not know how much or when it will receive vaccines, said Maxie.

The FDA is considering emergency approval for two COVID-19 vaccines. Britain became the first country to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, according to national news reports.

Forrest Health has a system-wide plan in place for how to handle COVID-19 vaccines, said Maxie.

It will be a while before a vaccine is available to the general public. Vaccines will go to the most critical frontline workers who treat COVID positive patients first. Getting a vaccine to nursing home residents and people with underlying conditions will also be a priority.

“We’ll be ready before the vaccines are ready,” said Maxie.