Commentary: Nanticoke staff stands tall against coronavirus

By Dr. Joseph H. Kim

Surge. That word will forever have a different meaning to me and thousands of my colleagues around the world.

Our rural, 99-bed Nanticoke Memorial Hospital experienced the surge the last week of March where, at one point, we had more than 50 patients that were positive for COVID-19 or under investigation for COVID-19, many critically ill and/or on ventilators.

We as a hospital were probably better prepared than most systems. We coordinated with our parent organization, Peninsula Regional, for supplies and staffing, and collaborated with leaders from other Delaware health systems and public health for expertise, guidance and policies. We corresponded with medical experts from around the world to determine appropriate treatment algorithms. We became stronger, more organized and more focused on surviving and conquering the surge.

Through the outstanding leadership of the newly appointed president of Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Penny Short, and chief nursing officer Ray Fulkrod, a COVID-19 command center was created consisting of departmental and physician leaders from around the hospital.

Dr. Janet Pedro, president of the medical staff, created a medical staff surge plan, assigning various responsibilities for physicians to work alongside the staff. Health care heroes like nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, technicians and aides all stepped up to answer the call.

These were intense and trying times, dealing with a deadly disease with no apparent treatment, and managing the fear of exposing oneself to this highly contagious pathogen and potentially infecting loved ones at home. It is difficult to express in words the dread on the faces of COVID-19-positive patients or the trembling voices of family members when describing the virulent nature of this illness. Through it all, our health care staff showed poise, professionalism, compassion, empathy and sympathy to all patients and family members. We did have patients succumb to COVID-19 despite heroic efforts; however, we also have had more than 100 patients discharged and recovering well!

We could not have done this without the support from the community; the outpouring of generosity was morale-lifting. The number of our hospitalized COVID-19 patients is declining, and there is a great deal of appreciation to everyone who stayed home to help flatten the curve.

As Delaware reopens, we must remain vigilant. This virus has not disappeared, but we are now more educated. We know that by wearing a mask in public areas, the risk of transmitting the virus is approximately 1%. We know that identifying patients early can reduce the spread with home isolation. We know that social distancing is effective. We know that the risk of developing the life-threatening symptoms is much higher in people in nursing homes and in people with compromised immune systems, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, advanced age, etc. It is imperative that we continue to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state to protect many in our community.

It has been an honor to serve among health care heroes to fight this pandemic. As number diminish, the hospital has implemented policies and procedures to open for all your health care needs, while also keeping you guarded.

We are stronger than ever before and are prepared to be your medical home again. For Marvel fans: “So no matter what, I promise, … if you need us, if you need me, I’ll be there.” Nanticoke Memorial Hospital and all its affiliates will be there, safe, ready and waiting.

Thank you again for all your support and confidence in us. Stay strong and stay safe.

Joseph H. Kim, DO FAAFP, is physician leader for Nanticoke Memorial Hospital COVID-19 Command Center, Seaford.