COOS BAY — “I think for a while this will be our new normal … it has to be,” said Sherree Wismer, a registered nurse in Bay Area Hospital’s Emergency Department, about how life has changed since COVID-19 came on scene.
When Wismer first heard about the devastation of the pandemic, she was overwhelmed with the idea that Coos County might have to wrestle with the virus.
“We’re a rural hospital,” she said, highlighting the fact that BAH is the biggest hospital for 150 miles.
Not only did that make her nervous, but being pregnant as a frontline worker made things even more difficult. She pointed out that being pregnant meant she was more susceptible to the flu and other viruses as her immune system went to her child as it developed.
“I’ve been really supported by all of my staff,” she said.
Emergency Department nurse Rebecca Hoffman echoed the stress felt as news of COVID-19 spread, stating that “we felt we weren’t prepared for something that big.”
Hoffman and her husband — who works as a paramedic — made a plan on how to prevent carrying anything home with them. To protect their children and home, they made a routine of changing clothes when they got to the house, sanitizing handles, and increased handwashing.
At the hospital, Wismer said that the administration also kept staff informed as details of the new virus change or emerge. With a COVID-19 newsletter, BAH continuously keeps employees informed on inpatient and outpatient practices, how many COVID-19 tests are being ran and the results, as well as resources for mental and emotional health.
“A lot of people are in a financial crisis at this time, so there were people we could contact for emotional support,” Wismer said.
Some of the restrictions regarding visitors have been hard on patients too, something Hoffman has seen. Though she said many have been understanding of these restrictions, others still struggle.
“A lady with cancer was very emotional because she couldn’t have her husband with her,” Hoffman said. “She was understanding, but it was hard for her.”
To keep themselves and patients safe, she and her colleagues followed recommended protocol such as wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distancing. They also wore personal protective equipment, even though the hospital had short supply at the start of the pandemic. Now, however, Wismer said BAH now has a full PPE supply “which is reassuring.”
In addition, she said, the hospital provided face shields, goggles and gowns while community members donated handmade masks and “we’re grateful for that.”
“A lot of people in the community have brought us food, too,” she said.
Having moved to the area from Phoenix, Ariz. eight years ago, Wismer appreciates being able to see how a small community supports itself by helping each other through this difficult time.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see,” she said.
As for the reduced visitors at the hospital, and being surrounded by people in masks, Wismer expects some of these changes to continue.
“We’ve been lucky in Coos County,” she acknowledged, but added, “A lot of us are fearing the summer because we are a tourist area. At this point, I think it’s wise to do what we’re doing now and keep it that way until we have research and data. … There’s a lot of people who just want (COVID-19) to go away, but it’s not. Be vigilant.”