Chris Schreyer has been a Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center nurse for 33 years and has been nurse manager in several units.
Noelle Shay graduated last year from Conemaugh School of Nursing and joined the hospital staff in July.
Neither gave it a second thought when their duties began to include COVID-19 patients in late March.
“As nurses we adjust,” Shay said. “Whatever is handed to us, we can take care of them.”
Shay was working in the Ashman wing at Memorial. That unit normally has its share of both patients with respiratory conditions and those who require isolation. So when the COVID-19 isolation unit was set up in the adjacent Rose wing, Shay was among those assigned.
“At first, obviously, it was pretty scary,” Shay admitted. “But at the end of the day, the patient is looking to you for comfort. We adjust well; we have to be that support for the patient. It’s just them and us and the doctors.”
Schreyer was covering the intensive care unit and the trauma step-down unit when the region’s first cases were confirmed.
“I kind of slid into the role,” she said. “I always do whatever is asked. It was challenging, running three units.”
In mid-April another manager was assigned to the ICU, leaving Schreyer with the trauma step-down and COVID-19 units.
“I believe the Conemaugh team has done fabulous with this process,” she said. “It’s been all hands on deck.”
‘Take on every challenge’
The COVID-19 unit includes both ICU and non-ICU patients, she noted.
“They all work together and really create a fabulous process,” Schreyer said. “They know what to do to take on every challenge that is given.”
Teams are used to working with personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, also known as respirators.
“It’s not something we’ve never done before, but we are taking extra precautions,” she said. “It’s different in the sense that we are always in the PPE in the unit.”
Conemaugh provides sanitized scrubs for staff to change into when they start their shifts and then leave at the hospital when they go home, Schreyer said.
Both nurses said their families have adjusted to the situation, knowing the risk for health care workers.
Shay lives in Ebensburg and is a 2015 graduate of Central Cambria High School. She said she reminded her family that the hospital provides specific training in addition to her nursing school experience.
“Like any mom, my mother was scared for me at first, but she took it well,” Shay said. “Everybody has adjusted to it.”
‘Our patients are safe’
Schreyer lives in Windber and has adult children.
“My family has grown up with health care all their lives,” she said.
Both said the biggest reward is watching patients recover and be discharged. But they said that’s always the most rewarding part of the job.
“With this, the reward is not only seeing the patient getting better and going home, but watching this evolve from a nursing perspective and watching different teams come together and take care of our patients,” Schreyer said.
Schreyer wanted to let readers know that the hospital continues to provide skilled medical care for the entire community.
“We are ready to care for them should they become sick, not just if they are coming for COVID-19,” she said. “They are safe here. Our patients are safe.”